LINCOLN CITY — Worried about a lawsuit over election signs, town elders adopted a new sign code Monday that regulates everything from political campaigns to Christmas lights — without saying so.
City Attorney Richard Appicello explained that amendments to the town’s sprawling sign law, spelled out in 10 sections of municipal code, were designed to sanitize it of any “content-based” references. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against laws that regulate election rhetoric or any other topic, judging they violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“This adds exemptions and content neutrality to make it more consistent with the law,” said Appicello, who warned earlier that anything less would invite signage chaos.
Stricken from the sign ordinance is language governing campaign messages or Christmas displays. Instead, “durational” signage will be controlled by size or time limits that kick-in around election time or Christmas.
“People put a lot of things in their yard around the end of the year to express themselves,” remarked Appicello. “We’re not telling you what the content has to be. It’s not the best for protecting the neighborhood, but we’re erring on the side of free expression.”
The new law controls the size of “holiday-related” bulbs, however, limiting their size to C9
One citizen testified against the measure. Jim Hoover, who claimed city officials have known about sign law irregularities for years, predicted the proposed amendments would still fail a Constitutional test. He urged the council to reconsider the matter.
“I urge you to go slow so you don’t dig a deeper hole, further compromising freedom of speech,” he argued.
The 6-0 approval included Mayor Don Williams, whose initial objections to the new law stopped its immediate adoption last month, just days after the city ordered mayoral candidate Dave Dahle to remove election signs the city claimed were too big.
Dahle cut his 4-by-8-foot signs in half and replanted them sequentially.
“The original signs cost me a couple of hundred bucks, but now I have twice as many,” reasoned Dahle, who was at the meeting to talk about other matters.
Some city councilors remained confused even as the city attorney explained its copious provisions that could result in steep fines on ‘For Sale’ signs posted in car windows, depending on where they’re parked.
“When we’re writing these ordinances there should be a way to summarize them or refer the reader to other spots,” remarked Dick Anderson, who pleaded for a “cheat sheet” to understand the changes.