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Political sign apps cause flap

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By Kirsten Laskey

Just as some debates create angry feuds between opposing political candidates, a substantial amount of flack is also generated from the posting of campaign signs.

Each side of the political aisle argues that signs are placed on properties without permission, mysteriously disappear or get replaced by someone else’s signs. It’s also been asserted that some signs don’t follow county code.

In Los Alamos County, the sign code, while some would say it’s somewhat confusing, does maintain a set of rules regarding public rights-of-way and public land.

This political season has been particularly confounding for candidates and the public alike because personnel in the Community Development Department inadvertently provided differing sets of requirements in relation to the posting of campaign signs.

That, in turn, has sparked a flood of letters to the editor. Each side was right, according to the paperwork they received from the CDD office.

Amy Storey, who applied for a political sign permit, said she thinks there are two different permit forms.

Community Development Director Rick Bohn said misunderstandings about the sign code caused the confusion.

Karyl Ann Armbruster, who applied for a political sign permit, said she believes there were two confusing issues — where county property and San Ildefonso land are located, which do not allow political signs without a permit, and whether large political signs are permitted.

Armbruster said these are not significant issues, but they need to be addressed.

“It’s not a matter of life and death,” she said, “it’s a matter of everybody playing by the same rules.”

Although there are rules and regulations in place, the code is difficult to follow and somewhat out-dated, with certain provisions going back to 1985, Bohn said.

Two years ago, the Planning and Zoning Commission attempted to revamp the sign code but was unable to complete the process, he said, adding that there are future plans to return to council with a proposed draft.

“Writing codes is a very difficult process and sign codes are among some of the most difficult to write because they involve issues of free speech, they involve issues of aesthetics and they involve issues of community standards and commerce,” Bohn said.

The county requires permits to place signs, which may be obtained at no charge from the CDD office.

Signs are only allowed to be placed in locations that have been approved by the county council. The CDD provides maps to the public detailing locations in which signs are permissible.

Permit terms run 60 days prior to an election. No more than two permits for temporary signs will be issued in any 365-day period and no more than 20 signs can be posted per permit, according to the CDD.

Signs cannot measure larger than 16 square feet in area.

The county traffic division will remove any sign considered to be hazardous to vehicular or pedestrian safety.

Permits are not required for signs located on private residential property. Political signs measuring four square feet in area or smaller posted on private non-residential property also do not require a permit, according to the CDD. But the total area of all signs on a given property cannot measure greater than 24 square feet.

Bohn said people are pretty good at complying with the rules. CDD staff tries to issue permits on the spot, he said.

Nancy Cerutti, CDD senior planner, said compliance with the county’s sign code is not generally an issue.

“We do have rules and regulations in the county and most of the candidates are very good at following them,” she said.

Bohn reminds candidates and citizens alike to take their signs down quickly following each election.