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Fall harvest: campaign signs

"Hundreds of political campaign signs disappeared from island roadways last week, taken in a crackdown by the city.En route to a meeting Monday morning, city code enforcement officer Will Peddy still found a few more to be removed.I've really got to get dressed for this ordeal, Peddy said - clad incongruously in a dress shirt, slacks and work gloves - as he pulled over to take down a few signs for Democratic candidates near the Agate Passage Bridge.The sweep was made by Peddy and public works crews at the direction of Mayor Dwight Sutton, after complaints from some island citizens that the promotional efforts of candidates and campaigns had gotten out of hand.City ordinance prohibits political or commercial signs in local road rights-of-way, including the strip along each side of the highway.By last Friday, in a corner of the public works yard on Hidden Cove Road, a pile of confiscated signs was a good 4 feet high and 10 feet wide.Candidates and political offices were notified that they could come scrounge through the pile and retrieve their own signs - with the caveat that any that went up illegally would come down again.I've had comments from citizens who said it was a great relief to get rid of what they thought were eyesores, Sutton said.One Republican candidate reportedly complained that only his party's signs were coming down, while a Democratic operative felt the sweep was tilted in the other direction.Peddy and Sutton said the effort was non-partisan - and the mound did include a healthy mix of Democrats and Republicans, with a few stray independents thrown in for good measure. The question of where the road right-of-way ends and private property begins can be somewhat sticky. City Administrator Lynn Nordby said the general guideline is that any signs inside the utility poles are fair game for removal.The ordinance is based on safety and aesthetic concerns, Nordby said, and does not raise free speech issues.If you don't keep it somewhat under control, they can proliferate, he said, adding, if they're on private property, we don't care.The breadth of the sweep didn't sit well this week with John Ugles, a Fletcher Bay Road resident, who was irked that three of his signs - Sheldon, Gore, Locke - were removed from atop a high hedge in his yard.Somehow, I can't fathom the right-of-way being 12 feet in the air, Ugles said.We've never had this micromanagement that we have in the city today.Peddy said that in some areas and along the highway, the sign-free zone is probably wider than some might realize.What people don't realize is that the right-of-way goes a good 100 feet into the shrubbery from the pavement along 305, he said.Inquiries to several local political offices and candidates were not returned. One Democratic candidate told the Review recently that he disapproved of the proliferation of his own campaign signs, but went along reluctantly as local roadsides filled up with those of his opponent.But Peddy said most complaints actually came from the local real estate community, inadvertently caught up in the sweep. A number of home for sale signs came down, city officials said, and were soon reclaimed by local agents. Ed Kushner of Windermere Real Estate, Peddy and interested realtors will meet at 10 a.m. Nov. 10 in the Windermere office to discuss city code and determine where real estate signs can be legally placed. The meeting presages a city move to bring all non-conforming commercial signs into compliance with city codes, planned to begin with the new year. For now, the emphasis is on political signs. I'll be glad when this damn election's over, Peddy said. "

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