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Proposed sign rule may put at least 24 people out of work

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POSTED September 17, 2012 12:20 a.m.

Chris Kroshus doesn’t want to be a burden on anyone - including the system.

The 23-year-old has modest goals he works toward every day:  to feed, clothe, and shelter himself; to work toward college; and to avoid drawing unemployment.

It’s a tough job market out there today especially if you are between 18 and 25. He’s taken on a bunch of odd jobs to stay standing including sign waving for Lucky Seven Auto Glass on Yosemite Avenue just west of Powers Avenue.

Kroshus may not be able to keep his head above water much longer.

That’s because on Tuesday the Manteca City Council is considering a municipal ordinance amendment that will effectively kill the jobs for several dozen young people who are employed by local businesses to wave signs at busy intersections.

Human signs - as well as A-frame and flag signs - are being addressed in a series of recommendations made by a council appointed citizens’ panel. They came up with fairly sensible suggestions. But then the fun began. Staff vetted the proposal before legal counsel. Now instead of just making sure sign wavers don’t block sidewalks or have oversized signs that are overtly distracting with flashing gizmos and such they are now being proposed to be banned from venturing within 100 feet of a controlled intersection.

That, in effect, will wipe out the effectiveness of sign waving and thus the justification for businesses to hire two dozen young adults.

And this won’t be another job loss that elected leaders can blame on regulations from Sacramento or Washington.

The reason for the prohibition has everything to do with aggressive panhandling. The city had previously banned any type of solicitation within 100 feet of a controlled intersection - meaning one with traffic signals or stop signs. It was in response to panhandlers aggressively walking up to stopped vehicles and standing in medians waving “work for food signs” or other overt lies. (If you doubt that, just offer one of them to work for three hours for $25 pulling weeds and see what kind of response it gets you.)

The ordinance addressing panhandling was extended to non-profits soliciting funds for burn victims and other such causes since both were essentially participating in commerce by asking for money.

Apparently no one in charge of enforcing municipal codes up until now was able to equate advertising with the direct act of solicitation.

Pushing human signs 100 feet away from controlled intersections will render them virtually ineffective.

There is another problem that the proposed ban brings up. The staff report explaining the rationale of the ban notes that equal treatment under the law means a sign soliciting “work for food” is no different than one soliciting customers to purchase a product.

If that’s the case, the city had better dispatch crews with large garbage trucks to preserve and protect the constitution. There are literally hundreds of illegal signs violating equal treatment of panhandlers within 100 feet of controlled intersections.

They are hawking everything from haircuts to the Pumpkin Fair, to Give Every Child a Chance’s casino night to tacos.

That would mean A-frame signs and flag banners within 100 feet of such intersections are a gross violation of the constitutional rights of panhandlers as well.

Of course the ultimate act of panhandling - politicians soliciting your vote - is constitutionally protected free speech virtually anywhere they wish including within 100 feet of controlled intersections.

There, of course, is a big difference between solicitors and sign wavers and it is not simply the fact the latter is willing to do work for the money they seek. Sign wavers do not approach vehicle - stopped or otherwise - to collect money. Panhandlers do.

Why not change both the solicitation and sign ordinances to prohibit either from approaching vehicles - stopped and otherwise - either to take items such as money or to give items such as advertising flyers to the occupants.

That way there is equal treatment and the city can protect jobs while protecting the public from aggressive panhandlers.


This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

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