The Royal Palm Beach Village Council approved the preliminary reading Thursday, Sept. 2 of an ordinance that would revise the village’s sign code to conform with recent legal precedent set by the United States Supreme Court and to provide consistency within the village code.
Village Attorney Keith Davis said the village has an extremely comprehensive and complex sign ordinance.
“This document that’s before the council tonight touches on one narrow piece of that, but there are a couple of cleanup things where we had to… change some internal references, but the thrust of this deals with temporary signs with a non-commercial message on it,” Davis said. “We deal with commercial speech in our ordinance already, that would be ‘for sale,’ ‘for rent’ or ‘open house.’ Those are adequately dealt with. This deals with non-commercial speech. The most common and recognized form is campaign signs. We have code that is specifically titled ‘campaign signs.’”
The U.S. Supreme Court decision said temporary signs cannot be regulated based on content, he said.
“By saying ‘political campaign signs,’ just by doing that, you’re addressing it just based on content,” he said. “We changed the code to deal with temporary signs with non-commercial speech, and we’ve broken that into two separate categories, and this is based on the Supreme Court case that’s referenced in the ordinance, and that is broken into temporary speech signs that are associated with a specific event, and temporary speech signs that are not associated with a specific event.”
Davis explained that the most obvious example of a sign that is attached to an event would be political campaign signs, because they are attached to a campaign date.
“We haven’t changed the requirements for those signs,” he said. “They still have a time frame when they can go up, when they have to come down, where they can be located, how big they can be, what they can be made out of, what condition they have to be kept in — none of that has changed. What really has changed now is that instead of being limited to political campaign signs, it’s any temporary sign with a non-commercial message that’s tied to an event, so it could be a Christmas festival or a haunted house or a specific sporting event.”
The other aspects could be signs that are not attached to a particular event on private property, such as support for an athletic team or “I Love Royal Palm Beach,” he said.
“Those signs could be up all year long, however, they have to be in the correct place, they have to be the correct size and they have to be maintained in the correct condition,” Davis said.
Councilwoman Selena Samios said her concern was that, since content could not be regulated, someone might place something considered offensive in their yard.
Mayor Fred Pinto said he planned to sit down with the village attorney, village manager and code enforcement director to talk abut what kind of procedural policy could be put in place to address that question.
“What I don’t want to do is put our code enforcement people where they have to make that kind of decision. Once that is put together, we’ll share it with council members,” Pinto said. “I don’t know what it’s going to look like, but it’ll be better than having nothing procedurally backing it.”
Vice Mayor Richard Valuntas said that obscenities are covered in the ordinance.
“That’s pretty much something that the government can say, ‘Alright, you can’t do that,’” he said.
Davis said language that is sexually charged with no artistic, educational, political or scientific value is not allowed.
“Profanity in and of itself is not necessarily obscenity, but if it’s offensive to someone… you’re not allowed to have it,” he said. “I agree, you do not want your code enforcement officers making judgement calls.”
Valuntas also asked about what types of signs can be placed on designated locations on public property where political signs are allowed two weeks before the election, and Davis said he would research that.
Valuntas made a motion to approve the first reading of the ordinance, directing Davis to look into signs on public property. The motion carried 5-0.