Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Ravenstahl Campaign Signage: City Code Violation or Ethics Board Referral

With a competitive mayor's race in Philly focusing on crime and corruption, the lack of a challenger to Ravenstahl prevents the scrupulous adherence by candidates to law or ethic in campaigning. We've seen Ravenstahl's name and image everywhere from garbage collection schedules and mail and billboard advertisements for both the Redd Up campaign and the 311 line, bolstering the case for filing a complaint with the State Ethics Commission. Most recently we've seen this political branding at a former porn theater. Though without a challenger to his campaign for mayor, Ravenstahl still has the right to display campaign signs - but not on vacant or municipally owned property!

CHAPTER 423: UNAUTHORIZED ROADSIDE AND UTILITY POLE SIGNS PROHIBITED is the title behind chapter 423 of the city code, the entirety of which you can find here. Title 4 Article I Chapter 423 excerpted can be found here. The legslative intent behind the code is explicit.

§ 423.01 LEGISLATIVE INTENT.
The City Council makes the following findings:
(a) Unauthorized signs along City roads and on utility poles are a danger because they are intended to distract motor vehicle operators and because they often obstruct views of other vehicles;
(b) Unauthorized signs along City roads spoil the natural beauty that is an invaluable asset treasured by residents, commuters and visitors;
(c) Residents, commuters and visitors have frequently asked City Council members what could be done to eliminate roadside signs including, but not limited to, signs supporting candidates for elected public and labor union offices and signs soliciting for a variety of business interests; and
(d) There are a number of alternatives available to advertisers that do not have the negative impacts that signs on roadsides and utility poles have.
(Ord. 4-1998, eff. 3-16-98)
The penalty is as follows:
§ 423.99 PENALTY.
A violation of this Chapter shall be a summary offense. Each sign in violation of this Chapter shall constitute a separate offense. The owner of the sign and/or any person who caused the violation of this Chapter shall be subject to prosecution and fine. The fine shall be no more than three hundred dollars ($300.00) per sign and no less per sign than the total cost to the City to remove the sign (including proportionate wages and benefits for employees while removing the sign, attempting to locate the offender and storing the sign; proportionate vehicle cost, maintenance and fuel for transportation of the sign; storage costs and disposition costs).
(Ord. 4-1998, eff. 3-16-98)
If you drive along Centre Ave in the Hill you will see this at the intersection of Centre and Robinson Ext:


The property above is either public property or municipally owned, along city roads, and should not be used to display political campaign signs.

At 2521 Centre Ave. there is a vacant lot. For all the rhetorical hoopla about abandoned properties and vacant lots, it is quite ironic that the mayor has a campaign sign displayed there. The property is back due on taxes since at least 2004 and represents precisely what is discussed about vacant lots in the city. Apparantly, Ravenstahl sees a use for this vacant lot:


Take a slight left onto Reed St. and at the intersection with Soho St. you will find another sign next to the fire hydrant and stop sign.


Again, this is municipally owned property, along city roads, and should not be used for political campaign signage. Take a left on Kirkpatrick and head towards the Birmingham Bridge, you will see this at the corner of Kirkpatrick and Bentley. Take a guess on who owns this property.

If you happened to head up Herron Ave from Centre you would have seen on your left the open lot shown below. According to the County Assessment website this property appears to be owned by the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

So, on a quick drive yesterday evening (April 23) I spotted these 7 signs on either abandoned property or municipally owned property. That totals up to $1800 (not counting the summary offense) in fines to the Ravenstahl campaign for violations to Title 4 Article I Chapter 423 of the city code. If this is not the correct application of the city code or if there is another code that better accounts for posting campaign signage along city roads or on public or abandoned property I am all ears.

This either warrants the attention of DPW, which, according to how I read the city code, is responsible for enforcement or to the city ethics board. To make a big deal about buying back liens on abandoned properties within the city and then post campaign signs on a vacant lot seems hypocritical. Together with the earlier case for the State Ethics Commission this might be something for the city's ethics board to consider once it (or if it ever) begins holding meetings.

The fact that Judge Williams and other candidates have done this is not a legal argument. That this whole post is a waste of time - not a legal argument. The fact that everybody does it and that city residents don't pay attention are also not ethical arguments. The law should be enforced equally.

Are there more campaign signs on public or vacant properties around town?

7 comments:

Bram Reichbaum said...

I wasn't with you, really (enterprising volunteers will lust after plum little patches of real estate) until you got to the Herron and Centre site that you say is owned by the U.R.A. That was quite a display. Whatever Team Luke decides to do, the U.R.A. should put some signs up in late may detailing just what their plans are for that property.

Skip said...

Yeah, I could have done a better job with the post but I was pretty sure that campaign signs on public property, along city roads, was illegal according to city code. I was fairly surprised to see so many flagrant violations of such a law.
The candidate is still responsible for the well-intentioned work of enterprising volunteers.

While I believe that property is owned by the URA, according to the county assessment site, I'm not certain. It's difficult to identify an address for that property but much of the property around it on the 500-600 block of Herron is owned by the URA. Remember that both Ferlo and Zober sit on the URA board. Maybe in late-May they'll announce that this property will become Ravenstahl Park.

EdHeath said...

Not to be dense, but this is the section that lays out where it is illegal to put signs:

§ 423.03 SIGNS PROHIBITED.
Unless a permit has been issued and is valid in accordance with the provisions elsewhere in this Code, all signs are prohibited from:
(a) The area within the right-of-way lines of all public streets, sidewalks, boulevards, highways, avenues, alleys, roads, or other public ways (the area within the right-of-way lines includes unpaved areas); and
(b) Any utility poles or structures within the right-of-way lines.
(Ord. 4-1998, eff. 3-16-98)

Maybe there is something in the “elsewhere in this Code”, but I didn’t see it in the excerpt you hyperlinked. I ‘m fine with following the law, but where is the part about municipal or vacant land? Am I misreading “right-of-way”?

Skip said...

Ed, you're probably right. The signs on the vacant property on Centre and on the "URA" property on Herron don't seem to fall within this law, as you point out. However, maybe someone else is aware of another city code that prevents the posting of campaign material on either abandoned or city-owned property. Something about doing that doesn't seem right, if not legally than ethically.
Another thought - What do you think would have happened if it were Peduto signs on these properties?

Matt H said...

Generally the DPW workers are pretty even across the board no matter which candidates they support in the booth. It is my experience with city campaigns that signs planted in the public right of ways will be removed.

No one from the Ravenstahl campaign offically put those signs there and would never ever endorse anyone putting them in spots that are considered illegal.

It's very hard for campaigns to police where the signs go after they leave the HQ. Anyone can really put a sign where they want to. Anti-Ravenstahl people can collect signs and go put them in illeagl spots hoping the campaign gets hit with fines.

Every person running for office will have signs in spots where they shouldn't be placed. I don't believe it is the candidate's fault in these instances. It's just a matter of people putting the signs in bad spots trying to be helpful and not knowing any better.

Anonymous said...

why have rules if we don't enforce them?

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