S.F. law took down 18 illegal signs in 2013; dozens still up

Mike koozmin/S.F. ExaminerRegulations in The City governing signage

In The City’s decadelong war against illegal advertising — billboards and the like, to be specific — 2013 was not such a banner year.

Eighty-four signs were indeed removed this year, but only 18 by enforcement action. The rest — 66 — came down voluntarily or to make way for development, according to the Planning Department via its annual year-end tome.

That leaves 54 illegal signs awaiting removal, most whose owners have been in court to keep them up. The bulk of the remaining billboards across town — 818 — are legal.

The ban on most new advertising signage was passed in 2002 with Proposition G. The law required registration of all legal signs and that they display a registration number as well as the owner’s name. Violators of the rules could be fined $1,000 daily.

A census at the time counted about 1,500 signs citywide. For some years afterward, the Planning Department had trouble just keeping up with the new illegal signs going up, let alone monitoring the signs already in place.

But as of mid-2012, code enforcers had successfully removed a total of 733 illegal billboards throughout The City.

Nonetheless, the billboard industry has been tenacious; between February 2011 and March 2012, for instance, property owners slapped up 40 new illegal advertisements.

Aside from troubles enforcing the ban, The City faced 13 lawsuits, as of 2012, arguing Prop. G was illegal. But even the settlements of such lawsuits have been controversial.

Most recently, The City settled one lawsuit in 2012 and in the process got sued again.

That suit came from San Francisco Beautiful, a nonprofit group, who took the matter to court over what it said was a breach of The City’s ban.

The group argued that alleged breach came about in the settlement The City made with a billboard owner, which reduced fines for its illegal billboards and allowed the company to replace large, ostensibly illegal signs with multiple smaller ones.

That, argued San Francisco Beautiful, ended up increasing the number of signs around town, not reducing them.

jlamb@sfexaminer.com

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