New Law Fails to Stop Illegal Billboards

by Randy Shaw on July 11, 2007

On February 28, we wrote about a massive increase in a new type of illegal billboards in San Francisco, and the Board of Supervisors’ passage of new legislation to curtail the problem. Unfortunately, the illegal billboard whose photo accompanied our story remain in place over four months later, despite our filing a Planning Department complaint. Supervisor Peskin’s recent legislation raising the penalties for illegal billboards has apparently not solved the problem, and a new measure allowing city officials to physically remove illegal billboards may be necessary.

There is something amiss when a business can openly violate city laws with impunity. Or, as appears to be the case with the hundreds of illegal billboards attached to the sides of San Francisco buildings, where the cost of the penalty is less than the value of the illegal advertisement.

How else to explain the continued presence of illegal billboards four months after a formal complaint was lodged with the Planning Department, and action to enforce the complaint was initiated by said agency? The value of the illegal advertising clearly exceeds the penalty.

San Francisco voters overwhelmingly approved a new billboard ban. If financial penalties are not fulfilling the voters’ will, than the city must get the power to simply remove the offending billboards.

The Department of Public Works regularly removes illegally posted signs from light poles and other public spaces, and there is no reason that these crews cannot remove illegal billboards from private property. We are unlikely to see property rights advocates insisting on the “right” to post illegal billboards on their buildings.

DPW’s involvement would not only quickly solve the problem, but would free up Planning Department staff to work on other pressing needs.

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