Fine of $50,000 for illegal billboard a sign of stepped-up enforcement

A private homeowner was fined $50,000 after he refused to remove an illegal billboard from his freeway-fronting house, as a result of a legal ruling that’s expected to boost The City’s quest to cleanse San Francisco of hundreds of advertising signs that are up without permits.

Late last year, the San Francisco Planning Department began enforcement of a 2002 voter-approved ballot initiative that banned new outdoor advertising signs. Additionally, signs installed before 2002 without a permit are considered illegal as a result of a law passed in 2006 by the Board of Supervisors.

Of the 1,464 outdoor advertising signs identified across The City, the department has ordered 96 removed, found 159 to be “generally legal” and more than 1,000 are still under review, according to city Senior Planner Dan Sider.

Sider said 59 signs have already been torn down. “It’s the tip of the iceberg, but it’s a tangible, physical change,” Sider said.

Hector Navarro appealed against a December order to remove a 48-foot-wide advertising sign from the top floor of his house on Folsom Street near U.S. Highway 101, court documents show. Advertisements have been painted or posted on the weatherboard home since the mid-1950s, the documents show.

On Wednesday, administrative law Judge Peter Kearns upheld The City’s order to remove the sign and he imposed a minimum fine of $50,000 against Navarro for refusing to do so. Navarro must also pay $3,400 in appeal fees.

Navarro’s attorney, Gerald Murphy, told The Examiner he expects to appeal the ruling. “We believe it’s unconstitutional,” he said.

“People were expecting Clear Channel and CBS to take the hammer — not a regular guy,” Murphy said.

San Francisco Beautiful Executive Director Dee Dee Workman said the ruling would help send a “really strong” message to advertisers and property owners.

“I think they can see that The City is not messing around anymore,” Workman said.

jupton@examiner.com

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