Editorial: Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

Editorial: Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

(File photo)

Though city officials earlier this year made a priority of stripping outdated, unnecessary and unenforceable laws from the books, it looks as though one managed to slip through the cracks.

Just days ago, City Hall announced it would no longer ticket vehicle owners caught displaying a “For Sale” sign on a parked automobile. The ordinance, which dates back to the 1960s, authorized law enforcement to charge offenders up to $100.

Officials issued a statement Tuesday, declaring the longstanding ban temporarily lifted. The ordinance, deemed potentially outdated, is up for review.

The decision came after much deliberation, stretching back to September at least, if you take City Hall at face value. Coincidentally, the announcement came just days after the Alexandria Times published an opinion piece by resident Scott Roy McLean decrying the practice.

McLean claims he earned a ticket for posting a “For Sale” sign on his automobile in 2012 and argues that the city’s ban violates the First Amendment. He also announced plans to sue City Hall, challenging the prohibition in court.

We applaud him for taking a stand for the First Amendment. We, though, are more interested in knowing why this is a law in the first place. And why has it escaped recent attempts to clean up our cluttered city code?

Who does this protect? The ordinance (section 10-4-13 in the city code, if you are interested in a bit of light reading) applies only to vehicles parked on city streets. So we are not talking about folks turning front lawns or driveways into used car dealerships to the dismay of neighbors.

Think of it this way: If a neighbor wants to sell their home, don’t they get permission to put up a sign advertising the property? How is that any different from posting a “For Sale” sign on a window or propping it up on the dashboard?

This absurd law fails to protect residents from any real threat while simultaneously flunking the fairness test. It also is hopelessly outdated.

A quick check of Craigslist’s selection of cars and trucks for sale in Northern Virginia brings up 14,800 hits. Who needs to post a “For Sale” sign these days anyway?

We backed City Councilor Justin Wilson earlier this year when he prioritized cleaning up city code. It came naturally as we have long agitated against useless rules, like restrictions on the number of cats a household can have (four) or how long you can park a car on the street before getting ticketed and towed (no more than 72 hours).

We still support this effort, which sees outdated, unfair and unenforced laws taken off the books. This ordinance should be the next to go.

And it should not take a lawsuit to get it stripped from city code.