Of Sandwich Boards and Sign Dancers: Chris Westfall Keeps Corvallis Up to Code

Photo by Jen Matteis.

We’ve all seen them: the kid dancing with the Little Caesars sign, the woman dressed up as Lady Liberty for tax season. Head downtown and you may see—and hopefully not trip over—a sandwich board out on the sidewalk in front of a business. What are the regulations for signs in Corvallis, and is the situation getting a little out of control?

For the past six years, Chris Westfall has served as the Code Enforcement Supervisor for Corvallis; as such, he’s responsible for making sure that business owners adhere to city codes when setting up signs around town. The addition of sandwich board signs downtown is a recent one; they’ve only been permitted on the public right of way in the central business district and its fringe since September of 2011, and this month they’ll gain access to Corvallis’ riverfront district, too.

“They are only allowed on the public right of way in those zones,” Westfall emphasized. “That includes sandwich board signs as well as other portable temporary signs.”

Although it’s not specified in the code that the signs must be in front of the businesses they are advertising—or that they must provide enough clearance to pedestrians or individuals in wheelchairs—that’s the intention, said Westfall. The requirements state that signs can’t obstruct or create hazards. If anyone has a clearance issue or believes another business is infringing on their own turf, they can bring the matter to his attention.

“There still has to be clear passage afforded along the public right of way,” he noted.

Another potential issue is visibility.

“We do have code authority to address obstructions of what we call vision clearance triangles (VCTs),” said Westfall.

However, temporary signs downtown are exempt from VCT regulations, as the buildings are built right up to the right of way, meaning that there’s no clearance at baseline.

“The riverfront zone has been exempt from the vision clearance requirements,” he said.

Typically, complaints arise not because of the lack of a regulation in the business district, but because businesses elsewhere are not permitted the same freedoms. Westfall said his typical work involves explaining why one business owner must obey a code despite the fact that the central business district doesn’t have to comply. Part of the reasoning is that traffic in the business district is tightly controlled by stop signs.

“We’re not looking at the same impact of vision clearance as other areas that are less traffic controlled,” said Westfall.

Although the work is challenging due to the complaints and the need for Westfall to enforce sometimes unpopular city regulations, he still takes pride in his job.

“This is a very challenging type of work to engage in for a lot of reasons,” said Westfall, who’s also a member of the American Association of Code Enforcement. “There’s a lot of conflict involved, there’s a lot of high-level impact on people’s lives. Some of it’s not pleasant work, but I do appreciate the opportunity to provide a service that not everyone understands. I appreciate the value this work brings to a community.”

Although Westfall hasn’t received many complaints about the sign walkers—that is, the Corvallisites breakdancing to iTunes with the pizza signs—there are concerns.

“We have more recently received concerns about the behavior of the people who are carrying the signs as potentially causing distractions for motor vehicle operators,” he said. “It was alleged in a complaint that the people carrying signs were jumping out into the bicycle lanes, dropping the signs into the vehicle lane, conducting themselves in a highly agitated manner in an attempt to attract attention from the motor vehicle operators.”

However, until Westfall observes this behavior while on duty, there’s not much he can do about it.

“There are things I’m aware of being a citizen of Corvallis, and then there are things I’m aware of as a code enforcement supervisor,” he said. “I don’t do this when I’m not doing this as a job.”

To comment on or complain about any signs around town, reach Chris Westfall at 541-766-6545 or Chris.Westfall@corvallisoregon.gov.

by Jen Matteis

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