Bee Investigator: The ubiquitous garage sale sign

08/31/2014 5:42 PM

08/31/2014 5:43 PM

It’s a common sight, particularly around the weekends, in communities throughout the Northern San Joaquin Valley: signs adhered to trees, boxes and poles advertising yard sales.

In many places, they’re illegal. If left up, they’re an eyesore. And in come cases, they’re dangerous.

Last week, Eileen Pratt of Ceres brought up the problem at the City Council meeting, Clutching a collection of signs she said she’d collected from just one neighborhood, she asked what the city was doing about it.

I asked, too, of representatives of several cities in the area. The answer, it turns out, is plenty.

Bryan Nicholes, acting fire chief, who oversees code enforcement for Ceres, said the city has a big problem with people posting signs on utility poles, often using nails to do so.

“It is a misdemeanor,” he said. Poles are considered private property, owned by the utilities that use them. Such signs can block the view of traffic and cause hazards for the people who work on the poles.

“A lot of people are putting them onto stop signs,” Nicholes said. “It obscures the pole.”

In Ceres, code enforcement officer Frank Alvarez patrols the streets, looking for signs and taking them down when he finds them.

“If there’s a way we can cite them, we do,” Nicholes said. That’s not as straightforward as it sounds. Of the signs I saw on a brief tour of the city last week, none provided a specific address. And it was obvious that some of them were old.

Another problem is people who seem as if they’re constantly having yard sales. Most cities limit people to two per year; in Ceres and Turlock, sellers are required to get a permit. These are $5 in Ceres and $15 in Turlock.

Modesto is an exception. Its municipal code allows for two sales per year, but doesn’t require a permit, said Cindy Haynes, administrative assistant in the Neighborhood Preservation Unit. The code governing garage sales doesn’t address signs.

The law is enforced when residents complain about excessive garage sales. It begins with a courtesy letter; further complaints or continued sales could lead to citations, Haynes said.

In Turlock, Neighborhood Services Supervisor Robert Boyd said, a permit must be obtained at least five days before the sale date.

Anyone found operating a sale without a permit can either close up shop, go get a permit or have one issued in the field for $20, Boyd said in an email.

“Citations can be issued if we do not get compliance, but that is very rare,” he said.

The city is even stricter on signs.

Each resident is allowed to use one sign advertising the sale, and it is supposed to be in the home’s yard. All signs found posted on poles and the like will be taken down and thrown away, Boyd said.

It raises the question: What good is a sign in someone’s yard for those who live on a court, or less-traveled road? For those looking for a sale in Turlock, Boyd said, the city’s Recreation Department posts online a list each week of the permitted sale sites.

All of that, of course, doesn’t keep people from posting signs on posts, stop signs and even cars.

“We try and collect as many as possible,” Nicholes said. “They detract from the city and detract from the view. It’s a never-ending process.”

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