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Sandwich-board sign sweep

Medford police conducted a sandwich-board sign sweep through downtown recently after it was discovered many business owners were in violation of city code by placing their portable displays on the sidewalk.

On July 29, police alerted 16 business owners they were in violation of a prohibition against placing signs in the public right of way. Two other business owners were later contacted. 

The issue came to light when someone complained about a sandwich-board sign near Evergreen Way that advertised a medical marijuana dispensary owned by Councilor Clay Bearnson.

"Somebody called and complained about the content on my sandwich-board sign," Bearnson said.

When police officers investigated, they found the subject matter didn't violate the code, but the sign itself — and others in the downtown — did.

Medford police Chief Randy Sparacino recently referred to the contacting of downtown merchants as a "sandwich-board sweep."

Police Sgt. Don Lane said his department provided information to the business owners that signs weren't allowed downtown in the public right of way.

"I don't think anybody was very happy," Lane said. "They were understanding."

Officers won't issue any citations — violations carry a potential $250 fine — unless the businesses blatantly disregard the code, Lane said. He said the officers provided information about the city code.

More than a half-dozen sandwich-board signs were still visible in the downtown area this week, and many of them appeared to be next to tree wells or outside the area where pedestrians normally walk.

Lane said the signs are not allowed anywhere in the public right of way, including around tree wells. Signs can be located in alcoves and entryways that are outside the public right of way.

However, Medford code does allow tables and chairs to be placed on sidewalks as long as the merchant obtains a permit.

The code relating to portable signs states: "One additional portable sign not to exceed 12 square feet in area for each business entrance is permitted. Such signs shall not be located within public right of way. The portable signs shall only be displayed when the business is open."

This week, Bearnson had three sandwich-board signs outside his business, located on Evergreen Way between Sixth and Main streets. Bearnson's signs have a green cross and the words "Oregon Farmacy." One sign in front of his store has the word "Dispensary."

Bearnson removed any signs from city-owned sidewalks, but instead placed them on property owned by the Medford Urban Renewal Agency, which requires a permit.

"I don't think it helps downtown businesses," Bearnson said about downtown merchants being contacted about the sign issue.

As a result of the recent action, theMedford City Council has agreed to alter the city code to allow signs in the right of way as long as they're not obstructing pedestrians or people with disabilities. Councilors instructed staff to begin the process of coming up with language to make the needed changes.

Linda Jones, manager of Scan Design Furniture on Main Street, said she hadn't heard anything about not being able to place her sign in the public right of way.

"We put ours where the tree used to be," she said. "If they don't want us to do it, we won't have it out there."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

Medford City Councilor Clay Bearnson, part owner of Oregon Farmacy, stands by one of the signs that led to a recent sandwich-board sign sweep in downtown Medford. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch