After All That Legal Wrangling Over Dallas's Sign Ordinance, Now the City's Doing a Rewrite?

Categories: Campaign News
SignBanPoster.JPG
The Institute for Justice may get what it wanted after all. Sort of. Ish.
For two years Matt Miller, executive director of the Institute for Justice Texas Chapter, fought with the city of Dallas in federal court over the 2008 ordinance that prohibits store owners from covering the top two-thirds of their windows with advertisements. The IJ brought the suit on behalf of several local shop owners who claimed the ordinance -- which was championed by Dwaine Caraway, who'd said stores with signs "just trash up the community" -- was a "blatant" First Amendment violation that's hurt small businesses trying to get the word out to would-be customers. The city responded by saying, "The courts have repeatedly held that a city may have content-neutral sign regulations as long as they are reasonable and advance a significant governmental interest."

But then, in June the Institute for Justice dropped the suit against the city, insisting Dallas officials were going to fine their clients $1,000 a day every day they were in violation of the ordinance. Said Miller in a statement, "Unfortunately, few small businesses can risk $300,000 in fines, however remote that risk might be. Our clients were forced to abandon their case or face possible bankruptcy."

So, then, how to explain this? Next week, the City Plan Commission will discuss, per its just-posted meeting agenda, "Window Sign Special Exception language." Which says, in short:
The proposed amendment would allow the Board of Adjustment to review proposed window signs on a case by case basis, provides standards to use in that review, and to determine if the signage is necessary for the branding and identity of the store.
The amendment, which says the exemptions would only be allowed if "the proposed signs do not prevent someone outside from seeing into the business," can be found at the end of next week's agenda. Once it goes through the CPC, of course, it'll come before the city council.

Caraway tells Unfair Park he didn't know about the proposed rewrite, and that "I am going to stand strong with the ordinance as it was first proposed and passed unless someone can show me" why a change is necessary. "We won our case, so why are we making a change? Everyone is not complying, and the ordinance is working well in my district."

I called Miller for his thoughts as well. He asked for a copy of the proposal, then called back after he'd read it. His response: "So the city is acknowledging that speech is important for businesses, but now I have to get their permission before I do it. The government still shouldn't be in the business of deciding what businesses can say to their customers. The good news is this will give some businesses some chance of communicating with their customers. It's an improvement, however minor. But I'll be see to see how many of these are approved."

I asked if he was frustrated that the city was entertaining these changes two years after the suit was filed, and two months after it was dropped.

"No, because our only goal in suing the city was to change a bad law," he says. "It would have been nice if they would have gotten rid of the law entirely, but any time they move the law in a direction that's more friendly to commercial speech, that's an improvement. It will be very interesting to see if this becomes a routine thing."
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Pennywhistle
Pennywhistle

Good luck getting the required four out of five votes on the Board of Adjustment to pass this.  The change will give businesses a right to ask for something (and pay an additional fee) without a realistic chance of being successful.

Also, to Akins note on digitial billboards:  the city of Dallas required a 3 square feet to 1 square foot trade in.  Other cities do it on a per board basis, like Tampa at 10 to 1.  The industry would have loved this because it allows trading in the small boards on city streets, rather than the larger expressway billboards. 

Finally, I believe Downtown is much better off with the addition of video boards and supergraphics.  You might keep in mind that one not for profit almost certainly would have closed its downtown doors years ago if not for supergraphics.  I can see two from my window right not.  Yes, one is for some type of adult beverage, but I'd otherwise be seeing two facades without any windows.  Here's an interesting use of a supergraphic to support the history of the Berlin Wall in a NYT piece:  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08...

Jack E. Jett
Jack E. Jett

Wait..wait wait.....Carraway really said that signs "trash up the community".  Has he ever looked at himself? 

akins
akins

There have been a number of changes to the sign policy for Dallas since the beginning of the year.  The billboard ban adopted in 2000 was essentially gutted,   Fifty digital billboards, double sided, three flashing messages on each, are going to be allowed on existing freeway signs if the billboard companies take down other boards at a 3-1 rate.  Other cities have managed to negotiate a 10-1 conversion.  The neighborhood groups opposed the change and only two council members voted against it.

Right behind that was the proposal to allow an additional  10 video boards and  12 supergraphics downtown.  This was brought forward by the Downtown Dallas people and initially their request was for many more signs and a much larger area of downtown (think Barcadi rum bottle ad the size of a building next to a church).  Mr. Caraway championed all of these changes to the sign policies.  Sign litter is sign litter what's the difference?

 If the Observer was doing it's homework on sign changes in the City, you would have revealed a new level of weight being given by the CPC and Council to a fairly obscure sign committee no one knew much about. They were formed (and it's in the code books) to deal with downtown signs only not citywide signage.  Yes, more than no, seems to be their response to nearly every sign proposal that comes before them.

The police and code compliance wanted the window coverage for signs reduced for years for obvious safety concerns.  The Board of Adjustment does not have the expertise to make an informed determination on this matter. 

The City needs to call a moratium on all signs (again) and form an appropriate committee which includes all stakeholders (that means citizens too!) to review the recent changes and possibly bring them before Council for reconsideration.

Another concern, recent changes to the signage for the Arboretum.  Dynamic message boards were not appropriate and overkill for the Cities beautiful garden and the surrounding community.  The DMN article reports Commissioners stated thorough planning by the Arboretum and lack of significant opposition from residents as the reason for their approval.  Wonder what Significant Residential Opposition would have to be to count these days?

scottindallas
scottindallas

The AAA Vacuum, or whatever it's called in Lake Highlands has gotten all political on their signs.  Funny, but regardless of what the ordinance states, if they want to post political, free speech signs, city can't say shit.  I posted a sign, "Native Trees, Shrubs and Bushes make the best plants for Texas." to provoke the assholes that got on me.  Said I was protesting Bush, and gigging the conservative asshole who reported me.  Don't provoke a vindictive Irishman

Doug in DFW
Doug in DFW

The Caraway cavalcade continues.  Poker houses with murders get a "back-off" sob story.  Superstar athlete felons get a key to Dallas.  Store owners posting 2 for 3$ Dr. Pepper signs get Caraway's nanny state engine roaring.

Mister_Mean
Mister_Mean

“Caraway tells Unfair Park he didn't know about the proposed rewrite, and that  ‘I am going to stand strong with the ordinance as it was first proposed and passed unless someone can show me" why a change is necessary.’ ”—I guess he also “forgot” about those changes that he tried to sneak past the council regarding loosening  the recently passed ethics rules too.   I wonder if his statement about showing why a change is necessary also involves  something that would also be considered “an ethics violation”?

gshelton
gshelton

i woudl say the law is not going far enough.   CM Carroway is right they do make neighborhoods look bad.

scottindallas
scottindallas

screw you, if you don't like it, don't shop there.

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