Jeff Jardine

Inquiring mind can rest assured, ‘Love Modesto’ signs on solid ground

A Love Modesto sign is pictured on Monday morning (04-11-16) on the 2800 block of McHenry Avenue in Modesto, Calif.
A Love Modesto sign is pictured on Monday morning (04-11-16) on the 2800 block of McHenry Avenue in Modesto, Calif. jlee@modbee.com

Going on a decade, “Love Modesto” has been Modesto’s love fest, and this year more so than ever.

Executive Director Jeff Pishney estimates some 5,000 volunteers will converge downtown the morning of April 23 for the opening rally. Then they will break off into groups that will include 16 events of encouragement such as grooming pets for adoption at County Animal Services to taking meals to hospice patients or carnations to those who seldom receive visitors in their rest homes.

Twenty-four teams will handle beautification, graffiti abatement, park cleanups and other projects around the city, while 19 teams will work in neighborhoods doing similar tasks. Thirteen groups will help people in need by collecting food, giving haircuts and more, while 24 more groups will spruce up schools.

They volunteer because they want to improve the community, its image and perhaps jockey for a spot on a list of best volunteer cities should one of those national publications ever publish such a thing. Mostly, they draw satisfaction from being part of something big.

So it was interesting when my phone rang one day last week. The voice on the other end belonged to Carmen Sabatino, a former Modesto mayor. He wanted to know if I’d seen the promotional “Love Modesto” signs posted around the city. He wondered if they violated the city sign ordinance, and said he’d spoken to City Attorney Adam Lindgren and was awaiting a response.

“I’m not making a complaint,” Sabatino said when we talked again Monday morning. “I’m making an inquiry about what the code says about the signs.”

Carmen just being Carmen again? Modesto’s Donald Grump? Or is there a real problem with the signs that needs to be addressed? After all, he’s had some experience at this sort of thing. As mayor in 2000, Sabatino engaged in heated exchanges with businessman Pete Bakker, who advocated loving Modesto by cleaning it up seven years before Love Modesto began.

“(Bakker) railed at the city’s failure to complete road-construction projects and to enforce sign ordinances,” The Bee’s Garth Stapley reported in a September 2000 story. “Outside the council chamber, he dumped about 1,000 signs he said had been illegally placed.”

Now, it’s Sabatino questioning the presence of signs and wanting ordinances enforced – that is, if they are being violated. When I ran into Lindgren downtown last week, he acknowledged talking to Sabatino and ending their chat with the understanding that Sabatino would send him photos of signs that might be in violation. Lindgren hadn’t received them to that point. Sabatino hadn’t sent them as of Monday morning.

The simpler answer would be to read the city code, specifically Title 10, Chapter 6. I perused it. The code allows people to post political signs – including those Sabatino posted when he ran for mayor last year – garage sale signs, real estate signs, farmers market signs, fireworks booth signs, pumpkin patch signs and others without requiring a permit from or paying a fee to the city.

I combed the codes and didn’t see anything that suggests the “Love Modesto” signs are oversized, nor saturating in numbers on a specific property. Political signs are limited to 32 square feet (the size of a 4x8 sheet of plywood), can be installed three months before the event and must be removed within 10 days after. Granted, I’m not a lawyer and, as the old joke goes, I don’t play one on TV.

But if Love Modesto’s signs do blur the lines just a smidgen, who cares? It’s a one-day event that’s proven to create long-lasting impacts. It compels folks to continue caring for the city on their own long after the sun sets on the big feel-good day. And besides, Pishney and others aren’t going to spend the year organizing such an event and then let their signs rot as blight in people’s yards and elsewhere throughout the city.

“The city gave us full permission,” Pishney said Monday. “Every sign up has the property owner’s permission. There hasn’t been a concern. This (Sabatino’s questioning the signs) is the first negative thing I’ve heard. The support has been unprecedented.”

In fact, Love Modesto projects can always use another set of hands belonging to one who wants to make Modesto a better place and improve its image: Cleanups, beautification projects, helping those in need, scrubbing a pooch and more.

Consider signing up, Carmen. It could prove to be a life-changing experience.

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