City officials: Illegal billboards are still posted

Planning Department says it is unable to meet task of enforcing Proposition G

Four years ago, voters said no to anymore billboards in San Francisco, but these illegal advertisements are still popping up throughout The City, according to city officials.

The lucrative business of general advertising has posed challenges for the Planning Department, which says it has been understaffed in recent years, unable to keep up with the number of billboards and other general advertising complaints.

In March 2002, 79 percent of voters approved Proposition G, which made it illegal to put up any more general advertising signs. At the time, it was estimated there were 1,500 signs, although it was unclear how many were legal.

Frustrated by the lack of enforcement, Supervisor Jake McGoldrick requested a hearing on a billboard at 1755 Market St. overlooking Octavia Boulevard, a new billboard that he says recently caught his eye.

“Enough is enough,” McGoldrick said Thursday. “I am going to hold a hearing one by one if I have to.” McGoldrick estimated there were as many as 400 illegal advertising signs in San Francisco.

“[Prop. G] is being implemented to a degree,” said Dee Dee Workman, executive director of San Francisco Beautiful, the organization that successfully campaigned for Prop. G. Workman said the Planning Department “has been really severely understaffed,” making enforcement of the sign law difficult.

“We do have a backlog of complaints,” acknowledged Scott Sanchez, a city planner. “We deal with all planning code violations,” he added.

McGoldrick said the problem of illegal general advertising is “getting worse and worse and worse.”

The building owners of 1755 Market St. were actually notified by the Planning Department in June 2005 about the sign violations. In a Feb. 13 notice of violation, the building’s owners and Kevin Hicks of Advertising Display Systems are named. According to city documents Hicks, argues the sign is legal because there was a 1955 sign permit, but the Planning Department contends that the sign was completely removed in the 1970s. The case now sits in the City Attorney’s Office, and no action has yet been taken.

McGoldrick said the hearing is an attempt to call attention to the problem. “We see the signs going up all over the place. The Planning Department has failed to make this a priority.”

City planners, however, say enforcement of the sign law is about to be ramped up. “Prop. G identified the problem. We’ve been making valiant efforts to address the problems,” said Dan Sider, legislative liaison for the Planning Department. In particular, legislation adopted by the Board of Supervisors this year requires all general advertising companies to submit an inventory of their signs to the Planning Department by Monday. The department will then check the inventory list. This will take up to three years, according to Larry Badiner, city zoning administrator. The department is also in the process of hiring an additional city planner to deal exclusively with billboard enforcement, he said.

jsabatini@examiner.com

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