County Renewing Illegal Sign Crackdown

Albemarle County is renewing their efforts to wipe out signs illegally posted in the highway right-of-way, they announced in a press release today. County law prohibits businesses from sticking signs up in the median of highways and along roadways—not only is it ugly litter, but they’re distracting to drivers, they block drivers’ line of sight at intersections, and each sign is an obstacle for VDOT crews when mowing along the roads. And, of course, they’re all trash—somebody has to pick them up and throw them away eventually, and that’s coming out of your and my tax dollars. The county first cracked down on them in 2007, then turned up the heat in 2009 after striking a deal with VDOT (who generally owns the land on which the signs are dumped) that would allow them to fine the sign spammers $100/apiece. Albemarle says that their 2009 effort paid off…for a while. Then the same companies went right back to sticking their signs up in the public right-of-way. The county is stepping up enforcement, effective immediately.

In my experience, the Mountain Kim Martial Arts (a chain that sells a sort of karate lite, for kids) is the worst offender in town—for years now they’ve put their signs up along school bus routes and near elementary schools, presumably to advertise directly to children. I’d love for media outlets to call some of the worst offenders and ask them why they feel that the law doesn’t apply to them. NBC-29 did that during the 2009 sweep, and some of the businesses actually complained that it wasn’t fair that they should have to pay to advertise legally.

14 Responses to “County Renewing Illegal Sign Crackdown”

  • Those claimed county efforts at removing signs is bunk. They never did that.

    In those years I begged the appropriate county offices to remove illegal advertising signs. Their answer was they had no authority to remove signs alongside roads and highways, and on medians, because that was state land.

    I wrote a touching appeal to a lawyer-supervisor to do something about the rampant display of illegal signs. He said this is very involved blah blah blah and there’s nothing the board of supervisors can do.

    So I went out night after night and collected all the illegal signs to be found. Hoping someone would write a news story about it, I left a huge stack of signs at the door to The Hook, but no story was written.

    My work lasted two months. Then I quit. And the signs came right back.

    I’ll bet the county is blowing smoke with what they announced, and will do nothing. For one thing, it’s dangerous. For another, no one is on the payroll to go out and get signs. Cops? It’s beneath the duties of a trained police officer to pick up roadside trash, and should be. We need to treat those people as pros if we expect them to be.

    Which department is supposed to supply the people-power for this?

    As one who watches, counts and HATES roadside signs, I’m surprised at how few there are this year compared with others. The main epidemic is from the one(s) posting signs to buy junk cars. Easy to find those people. The phone number is on every sign. A nice, pleasant visit from two cops with nasty reputations might convince them to quit.

  • I suspect part of the problem is the fact that to punish, it must be proved. And the sign itself is not proof that the person being held responsible was the person responsible for their placement.

    People have been known to pull down signs they dont like, move signs to cause difficulty for others etc etc. I walk my dog through an area institution. When I went to drop the plastic baggie of the dog walk results in the dumpster back in 2007, it was filled with political signs. All from one political party. All new. And the political party was clearly at odds with the institutions leanings.

    So yes, people will screw with signs for more than just “upholding the law…”

    Innocent until proven guilty my friends.

  • “Innocent until proven guilty?” We’ll remember that when we personally get a ticket because our license plate ran a red light.

  • We keep dropping the adjective “presumed”. If you did a thing: you’ve always done a thing and always will have. Courts of law may, or may not, PROVE, with all the provisos of what constitutes proof in a courtroom, that something was done. Whether you’re, in a courtroom, acquitted of a deed does not impact the actual fact of your having done it. Or not.

    When, exactly, did we fall for the concept that legal defintions are the equivalent of actual definitions?

  • I don’t think anybody can seriously propose that people have been secretly printing up Mountain Kim Karate signs and planting them in front of schools for the past four years. That would be quite easy to settle in a court of law, too. “Did you or your business place these signs or or cause them to be placed in the right-of-way along roadsides?” And that would be that.

  • @Evan. Show me a picture of the guy putting signs up in the highway and I will be happy to suggest that is good proof of guilt.

    @Myer. As usual, I have no idea what you are talking about.

    @Waldo. Of course not. The point being that before you cans tart jacking up tixs and expecting them to hold, you need proof of responsible party. As in my example, people are more than willing to move signs they disagree to different places, for THEIR OWN agenda. Regardless of the ethics. Yes, if they acknowledge guilt then I think we have met the standard of… um… guilt.

    It is one of those things that, on the face of it seems easy but then that silly reality shows up. Just how much of the police budget should be spent chasing these guys down? How much court time should be dedicated? Take a drive from Cville to Gainesville and tell me how many offenders. 100? 200?

    And dont even get me started with all those Obama signs we had in the 250 median in 2007! Could have paid the national debt once Obama admitted to putting them there. I mean, he did put them there….right…?

  • I recently started removing and throwing away advertising signs that I’ve come across while walking around town. It’s very therapeutic!

  • It is one of those things that, on the face of it seems easy but then that silly reality shows up. Just how much of the police budget should be spent chasing these guys down?

    Six. Six units of police time.

    Seriously, there is no answer to this question. The appropriate authorities should devote available resources. That’s the answer. That’s always the answer. This is basically a reframing of that old trope, how can you worry about X when there’s so much Y in this world?

    And dont even get me started with all those Obama signs we had in the 250 median in 2007! Could have paid the national debt once Obama admitted to putting them there. I mean, he did put them there….right…?

    One could say this for any political candidate. Every year they’re the worst offenders. Any candidate with a budget and a fighting chance (which is to say, not McCain in 2008) puts up all those damned signs, and unless they win, they’re not going to take ’em down. (If they win, then they still have a staff and a reputation to protect. If they lose, they have no employees and couldn’t be bothered.)

  • So, six FTE’s? For how long?

    I would be curious just how much the total budgeted FTE is, including car use etc actually is for Cville and Albemarle. Next time Longo is in I will ask him.

    But it is true, as you say, that available resources could be brought to bear. Perhaps the next time an officer finds himself sitting at a light with nothing to do he might grab a sign and follow up in the course of his day. Should anything more pressing occur, follow that up.

  • So, six FTE’s? For how long?

    No, six units. Define a unit for yourself. :) Point being, I am not a police officer, nor am I familiar with the Charlottesville Police Department’s budget, so I am not in a position to say how much time that they should spend on such things. (As you can see, they’re not actually spending any time on this—this is being handled by the county, VDOT, and the commonwealth’s attorney. I’m not sure that police are actually involved at any point.) One could complain of any crime that isn’t rape or murder that it requires time. Well, yes, of course it does. How can we spend time investigating property crimes when people are being assaulted? How can we spend time investigating spousal abuse when cars are being stolen? How can we spend time investigating X when Y is happening?

    That’s a complaint that should be taken up with the General Assembly, because they are the ones who define what is and is not a crime. Guys like Rob Bell introduce bills every single year that create new classes of crimes and increase the penalties for existing crimes. It is the job of the police to investigate crimes, and to pass along the evidence of those crimes to the legal system for prosecution. It is the job of local elected officials to provide the funding to allow them to investigate all of those crimes. If you think that putting up hundreds of signs in the right-of-way around Albemarle County shouldn’t have any legal ramification, then take that up with your senator and your delegate and with your member of the Board of Supervisors. But right now, it is a crime (and a hell of an eyesore) and, as such, the county has a duty to address it as prescribed by the law.

    Inspired by others’ stories of taking up signs, I stopped today and pulled one up myself. It felt real good.

  • There are exceptions to roadside sign illegality. Candidate signs before elections are one. They are permitted in part because the slippery slope does not lead to chaos.

    Guitar sale signs for Stacy’s Music up and down the US 29 median is not a permitted exception. Even a merchant should be capable of understanding where that leads.

    One answer lies with us, people passing by. When possible, remove signs and put them in the trash. Don’t leave them lying on the ground. Just because there are attendant problems with that solution is no reason not to do it.

    There is no perfect solution. We must do what’s possible.

  • Is there some way to spam the phone numbers on some of these signs with a bazillion phone calls, to give the perpetrator some sense of what his/her signs are doing to our visual landscape? I mean, some cheap, easy way.

  • Well, an unscrupulous individual could put their phone number on Craigslist in association with an offer—unrelated to their line of business—that would yield a lot of phone calls. Of course, that could be quite unfair to the people making the calls, unless the ad was promoting something unsavory, the sort of thing that one might not feel about about wasting people’s time on, given the sort of person who would actually respond to such an ad.

  • Barboursville C'ville

    A cascade of signs isn’t pleasin’;
    They bloom beyond obvious reason.
    But, while you’re tut-tutin’,
    You haven’t seen nut’in’;
    Just wait till political season.

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