Battle Ground wants to send clear message on illegal signs

Proposal would let city dispose of those placed in right-of-way

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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As political signs throughout the county continue to be plucked up and thrown away following Tuesday's election, the city of Battle Ground is looking toward being tougher on signs placed in the public right-of-way.

A series of proposed revisions to the city's sign code would spell out exactly where signs could go, and what the city could do with them once they're confiscated.

While political signs often pose a very visible problem every election cycle -- cluttering right-of-ways or posing a hazard -- the city is clear that they're not targeting political speech.

"We're equal opportunity prohibitionists when it comes to signs in the right-of-way," said Robert Maul, the city's community development director.

Under the proposed ordinance, the city could confiscate signs on the right-of-way and toss them, instead of handing them back to the politicians upon their request.

The same would go for other types of signs.

"It's especially bad with the garage-sale signs," Maul said.

During election cycles, political signs can end up posing a major nuisance, Maul said.

For other types of freestanding business signs, Maul said, the new ordinance would likely be less restrictive.

Despite complaints by some about stolen and tampered-with political signs, the last election elicited only a few complaints about signs on public land, Maul said. He said signs most commonly found in right-of-ways were ones that advertised "No on 74," the gay marriage measure.

One city government official knows firsthand how signs can get out of hand.

Staying one step ahead of Battle Ground's sign enforcement is "a game," Deputy Mayor Shane Bowman said. He knows the rules of the game because he's successfully played it.

Bowman won his seat over an incumbent, Philip Haberthur, in a hotly contested race last year. The campaign was Bowman's second go-

round and, having failed to beat an incumbent in 2008, he'd learned the importance of getting his name out.

Bowman bought about 200 signs for his campaign and intended to use all of them. He placed many of them on the right-of-way.

When the city confiscated Bowman's signs and told him he couldn't put them on the right-of-way, he went down to City Hall, picked up the signs and put them right back into the public right-of-way.

"During the election year, everyone starts playing a game with the signs," Bowman said.

For a while, Bowman felt the city council was against him because the city kept taking his political signs.

Now that he's an elected official, Bowman "knows where the city is coming from."

"I probably overdid it," Bowman said of his placement of political signs. "I knew the game, and I knew how to play the game."

The city has set a public hearing and adoption scheduled for Dec. 3. The new ordinance, if passed, would take effect 30 days after that.

Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517; http://www.twitter.com/col_smallcities;tyler.graf@columbian.com