City officials take on bong sign outside smoke shop

A giant inflatable bong and vaping rig sit outside Hazy Days Smoke Shop in Newport’s Agate Beach area. City officials said the inflatables are in violation of city code and issued a citation to the owners of the shop, although shop owners said it’s a free speech issue. (Photo by Madeline Shannon)

NEWPORT — Drivers on Highway 101 in Newport’s Agate Beach area may have noticed a giant inflatable plastic bong outside the Hazy Days Smoke Shop on the west side of the road. While this display — serving as a sign for the business — has been up for much of the summer, it might not be there much longer before city officials make shop owners take it down, along with the accompanying inflatable vaping rig.

“We notified the owner and said they had to take it down in a certain amount of time, which they didn’t do,” said Derrick Tokos, Newport’s community development director. “A citation was issued from our community service officer.”

Hazy Days employees had until Aug. 26 to take down the inflatable bong. When the bong didn’t come down, city officials sent Jovita Ballentine, community service officer, to issue a citation. Ballentine did not return calls seeking comment. 

The bong, as well as a new vaping rig store managers put up next it, resulted in an increase in business for Hazy Days.

“It just attracts attention to the shop,” said Jordan Campau, co-owner of Hazy Days. “It’s a freedom of speech kind of thing.”

On the subject of any criticism of the inflatable displays outside the six-month-old shop, Campau said, “I’m not 100 percent on that. I couldn’t tell you.”

According to Newport’s sign ordinance, business owners have to acquire a permit with the city to legally display a sign. Any sign put up in violation of the city’s sign code constitutes a nuisance and a civil infraction, and Hazy Days owners can now be charged up to $500. A second violation within two years would cost the smoke shop $1,000. According to the sign ordinance itself, “Each violation is a separate infraction, and each day in which a violation occurs or continues is a separate infraction.” 

This isn’t the only case of a sign code violation Tokos has ever seen in Newport. 

“From time to time we get sign code issues,” said Tokos.

Another of the shop owners, Jacob Campau, said he talked to Tokos and other city officials at Newport City Hall to make sure he could legally display large inflatable signs like the bong outside his shop on Highway 101. No one could tell him the inflatables he wanted were against city code, so Jacob bought $14,000 worth of inflatables.

“They just said I couldn’t have giant wavy inflatable guys,” said Jacob. “But there’s two of those in town. I pointed out I felt like they were discriminating against my business because of their bias.”

Jacob said he stayed in touch with Tokos via email over the inflatable objects, which he said he isn’t using as temporary signage. However, he did say he rents out the inflatable bongs and other inflatable objects he bought.

“We do have a blue one in California right now,” Jacob said. “We have quite a few and use them depending on which ones get rented.”

However, he maintains the inflatable objects displayed outside the shop are not temporary signage.

“That’s not their main purpose,” Jacob said.

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