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February 2, 1998

Opinion

Group accuses county of double standard in sign code enforcement

  The Coalition for Public Trust (CPT) currently has four lawsuits pending against King County, Weyerhaeuser, Port Blakely Communities (headquartered in Issaquah) or some combination thereof. We are fighting to stop what we believe was the illegal approval of two massive projects - Blakely Ridge and Northridge - that are unwanted and examples of irresponsible development in a rural community. We have entered a critical time in our federal lawsuit to be heard in March, where funding is now crucial to the success of our efforts.
  
   At around 3 a.m. Saturday morning Jan. 10, a King County Road Maintenance crew from the Union Hill Public Works Yard in Redmond dismantled and removed four of the coalition's large "Help Us Fight the UPDs in Court" signs. They were located on NE 133rd, Novelty Hill Road and Union Hill Road in unincorporated King County. The cost of the signs to our organization was approximately $3000. These signs have kept the community updated to the progress of our suits for two years and have advertised our hotline number.
  
   We believe they were singled out for their apparent infringement on King County's rights-of-way because of our pending suits against the county. It was our understanding that our signs were on private property, and we had obtained the permission of the property owners nearly 2 years ago for their placements. A hundred or more development signs just in our area alone, also in the rights-of-way, were left untouched by this effort Saturday morning.
  
   This action against us by King County was prompted by an anonymous complaint sent to the King County Code Enforcement office in Renton last August from a mail/copy center in Issaquah. The highly detailed complaint addressed only our signs. It was professionally typed and formatted, and it included a map of the area showing Blakely Ridge and Northridge and a highly detailed description of each sign. It was then sloppily signed by hand, "Sincerely, Area Resident." The faxing location suggests that this was not an area resident.
  
   Three months after the county received the letter, The Coalition for Public Trust received a call on our hotline voice-mail from a county employee in Renton, who wished to get [together] with us to work out the deficiencies with our signs. She was polite and sounded sincere in her desire to resolve the complaint without any problems. We immediately returned her call and specified we were willing to do whatever was necessary to correct the situation. We also pointed out in our message to her that there were hundreds of developers' signs in our area that also seemed to violate right-of-way laws, and that we believed that they were far closer to county roads than our signs.
  
   We assumed that when the county didn't return our call or contact us further, that the potential impact to developer signs in the area had caused the county to re-think their concerns for our signs. Eight weeks later though, something or someone prompted immediate action by the county to remove our signs. Important enough that they sent a crew out at 3 a.m. under the cover of darkness and on a weekend to do it.
  
   Now I cannot say that I am sure that our signs were in compliance with county code. The county has not shown us the proof that our signs were, in fact, in the rights-of-way, but after 2 years in place without a single complaint and hundreds of other developer and political signs up all over the area, frankly, we hadn't given it a thought. Our signs were 15 to 20 feet from the road's edge, and we know that they were clearly farther from county roads than the hundreds of developer signs that seem to be getting overlooked by the county every day.
  
   If our signs were violating the rights-of-way, then there are hundreds, if not thousands, of signs in King County violating rights-of-way worse than ours. After ours were removed, there were at least one hundred signs still located on Union Hill put there in rights-of way by builders and developers. We have learned recently that in Issaquah, activists have fought for years to get developers' signs removed from the rights-of-way, but King County has refused to do it citing a lack of manpower.
  
   If nothing else comes from this attack on CPT, it should prompt the county to remove every sign in every right-of-way or be accused of applying a double standard to opponents of King County's pro-development agenda. If King County chooses not to address this double standard by cracking down on the thousands of signs that they have allowed to exist in violation of code, most of them belonging to builders and developers, then we expect our signs to be replaced and returned to their former locations where we can work with the county to meet any and all county codes.
  
   It would be futile for King County to attempt to convince us that this action was not an intentional attack on our efforts to stop Blakely Ridge and Northridge. There was a time when citizens could expect their government to work on their behalf and defend their right to free speech. Today it seems that only developers still have those protections in King County.
   Steve O'Donnell, president,
   Michael Costello, vice-president
   Coalition for Public Trust, Redmond