In a statement released on February 2, the City of Salem said most temporary signs posted along the city’s public right-of-ways require a permit and estimated that, currently, “more than 90 percent of temporary signs that require a permit are in violation of City code.“

The City’s sign code was created, among other reasons, to improve the neat, orderly, and attractive appearance of the community and prevent proliferation of sign clutter, while being “consistent with state and federal constitutional limits on the regulation of speech,” according to SRC 900.

Temporary signs that require a permit include banners, pennants and balloons and are not allowed in public right-of-ways, including sidewalks, alleys, curbs, utility poles and so on, with the exception of some sidewalk signs in the downtown area.

Signs that do not require a permit include lawn signs, which are usually small political signs or real estate signs. Lawn signs are also forbidden in the public right-of-way in Salem.

Before the 2008 recession, the City employed a full-time staff member dedicated to enforcing the sign code, including reviewing all sign permits, conducting inspections in the field, and providing enforcement for illegally placed signs. But, due to budget cuts during the recession, sign review and inspection duties were absorbed by the City’s Planning Division. Enforcement duties are currently shared between Compliance Services and Planning staff, with limited resources. “This means,” the City says, “that generally only signs posing a public safety concern are prioritized for enforcement.”

After public hearings conducted by Salem City Council last August, the City began to perform periodic code enforcement sweeps, with the first occurring in October 2017. “The primary goal of these sweeps,” the City says, “is to connect with affected business and property owners and educate them on code requirements. The City also removes temporary signs placed illegally in public rights-of-way during these sweeps. This includes signs placed on utility poles and signs placed at major intersections.”

The October 2017 sweep collected more than 200 signs and several businesses were contacted. More than 150 additional signs were collected during a second sweep on January 27, 2018.

The City holds signs for up to 30 days. It imposes a retrieval fee of $67.50 for the first sign and $50 for each additional sign.