Who controls campaign signs at the Ridge?

ROA wants signs removed, however the law is unclear about jurisdiction.

Political campaign signs at Snoqualmie Ridge have been getting extra focus lately.

Several candidates for city council received emails from the Snoqualmie Ridge Residential Owners’ Association (ROA) stating their staked political signs were in violation of ROA policy and needed to be taken down or that the ROA would remove them.

Elaine Armstrong, who is running for council Position 2 in the General Election, received an email from Kayte Beatie, ROA community manager, saying the ROA has, “a sign policy that your staked signs are in violation of right now” at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 6, and that the ROA would, “begin removing signs if they were still in place on Monday.” The policy was attached.

“I was very upset,” Armstrong said. “It’s a lot of work to put those signs out.”

According to RCW 29A.84.040, removing a person’s legally placed political sign is a misdemeanor and the removal of each item counts as a separate violation.

Armstrong said she and other candidates were not told the specific location of the signs that the email was referring to. They also wondered if anyone could prohibit signs between the primary and general elections, and whether the ROA had the jurisdiction to remove signs.

She also wasn’t sure if they could prohibit signs on the part of Snoqualmie Parkway that runs through the Ridge, but she decided to take action to be safe.

“I felt really pressured to get them down. In an abundance of caution — because these signs are expensive and difficult [and] it takes time to replace them, and we don’t have that much time left before the election, and to lose them would be kind of a big blow — I decided to just go ahead and take them down and figure this out later,” she said. “I took down all my signs that were in friends’ yards in the Ridge as well as in the center of the parkway.”

Armstrong said she wrote back to let the ROA know she was not aware of the new signage policy even though she is a Ridge resident, and also went in and talked to Beatie in person.

“I’d never heard of this rule by the Ridge and I was surprised not to have heard of it during the primary,” she said. “I was able to get my signs down in the pouring rain on Sunday, and I went in to her office on Monday and talked to her. She was very gracious and wonderful to work with. She herself wasn’t very clear about what exactly the sign policy covers. What the ROA covers is quite complicated.”

She said the two spent some time with the office’s large map trying to discern what was and was not covered by the ROA. Armstrong suggested sending the policy to all candidates at the start of election season.

The ROA has a temporary signage policy that Beatie said was recently added after complaints about the abundance of political signs last election season. The policy is a part of the ROA’s covenants (governing documents that all residents sign agreeing to adhere to the policies and regulations in the neighborhood).

The policy reads, “The covenants serve as a pledge by each owner to do his and her part to keep Snoqualmie Ridge attractive, as the character of its outward appearance significantly contributes to the value of each home. Thoughtless signage is an eyesore that detracts from Snoqualmie Ridge’s visual appeal.”

Beatie said that in general the ROA tries to eliminate all visual clutter and signs, with a few exceptions, including one for political signs.

“An owner or occupant may display up to three political signs in the owner’s yard, subject to the time, place and manner restrictions contained in this policy,” the document reads.

The time requirement states that, “a political sign may be posted from six weeks prior to an election until seven days after the election. It shall be the joint responsibility of the property owner and of the sign owner to remove the political sign within the removal period established in this policy.”

The policy mandates political signs not exceed a height of four feet or width of four feet. The place requirement says the signs must not obstruct sight lines, present safety hazards, or be attached to any utility pole, light pole, tree, public sign post, nor “any building, mailbox cluster, or structure, nor placed within parking strips, street right of ways, any common area, or any area of common responsibility.”

The policy also states that, “the association may exercise this right to remove without notice to the sign owner.”

“We have a sign policy and we have an expectation that residents follow the covenants for the neighborhood,” Beatie said. She said having a smaller, shorter time frame for political signs helps the community look tidier.

She had no concerns about the issue, and she and Armstrong had reached an agreement.

She explained that they had sent candidates information about the policy in general and had given them notice that their signs would be removed. She told the Record she wasn’t aware of referring to any specific signs, just signs in general.

“We are aware that these are expensive, and we want to give them a chance to collect them rather than remove them,” she said.

Staff had not removed any signs, and the only cases of signs being moved at all were when signs blocked landscaping crews.

City Councilmember Peggy Shepard said she was greatly concerned by the emails and that she got no response when she emailed the ROA for clarification.

“I consider it a threat. They were gonna start pulling signs on Monday without the ability to verify what their jurisdiction is and without clarifying which signs they were referring to,” Shepard said. She said debates on the policies of political signs is “an ongoing saga” in elections everywhere, not just in Snoqualmie.

Shepard did not think the ROA could legally remove signs, and she was unsure of what exactly their jurisdiction is, and if their policy is legal to begin with, saying it may be in violation of RCW 64.38.034.

That law says any homeowners association, “governing documents may not prohibit the outdoor display of political yard signs by an owner or resident on the owner’s or resident’s property before any primary or general election. The governing documents may include reasonable rules and regulations regarding the placement and manner of display of political yard signs.”

“I don’t understand what their jurisdiction is,” Shepard said. “I am one of the residents, and I can’t even find any documentation that defines their jurisdiction.”

Kim Bradford, spokesperson for the Public Disclosure Commission(PDC), said the PDC does not regulate signs and that cities and counties have their own sign regulations. She said the city’s public works department is usually the best resource for finding information explaining where campaign signs may be placed, when they can be installed and when they must be removed.

The Washington State Department of Transportation has its own regulations for signs along Interstate highways, primary highways and highways that are part of the scenic and recreational system.

King County’s sign regulations state political signs, “may be displayed on private property with the consent of the property owner. Any such sign, poster or bill shall be removed within (10) days following the election.” The county code also says, “no sign, poster, bill or other advertising device shall be located on public property or within public easements or street right-of-way.”

Snoqualmie Municipal Code Chapter 17.75 regarding signs has no mention of poitical signs or campaigns or elections. Additionally, building official John Cooper from the city’s code enforcement said, “Political signs are exempt from code enforcement.”

Joan Pliego, city spokesperson, emphasized that people who live on Snoqualmie Ridge are residents of Snoqualmie and must follow city laws. However, the city of Snoqualmie does not have laws regarding political signs. She said the covenants cannot override city laws and that the ROA is not doing so by specifying time of posting signs and indicating that the ROA can remove the signs if the resident/property owner is outside of that timeframe, since there are no city laws for political signs. Since the city does not have laws about it, the detail by the ROA is not controlled by the city.

Pliego also said the ROA does not have any jurisdiction over Snoqualmie Parkway, which does have a segment in the Ridge and is a popular place for candidates to place their campaign signs.

Armstrong said that’s where several of her signs were, on the Parkway median, in addition to several others that were in friends’ yards.

As a resident of the ROA, Armstrong is contractually obligated to follow its policies, but she wonders how it could apply to other candidates who are not ROA residents and therefore have not agreed to their covenants’ policies.

Pliego said that as far as she knows the ROA cannot control those who do not live in the Ridge. They only have control over those under the covenants.

“I’m just frustrated that they would do this. They’re not making it clear to the two candidates in opposition to the incumbents. Signs are expensive, they also have a name recognition issue and are already at a huge disadvantage,” Shepard said. “Incumbents have the advantage of lots of air time from what’s published by the city.

“It’s ridiculous in my opinion.”

Armstrong said, “It’s frustrating to have our voices reduced, or to make it so our voices can’t be heard. I’m not a famous person in this town. I have gone door to door to try to get people to understand who I am and have a conversation with as many people as I can. But how are people going to know about me? So many times when I go to someone’s door they say ‘Oh, yeah, I saw your sign,’ and that little bit of name recognition gets us started talking.”

Now that the beginning of voting for the election is less than six weeks away, and now that she knows the ROA cannot control the parkway, Armstrong has had to put in the work all over again to get her signs back up. She hopes people won’t be confused why her signs have come and gone.

EDITOR’S NOTE: In a correction to a submitted comment from Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) spokesperson Kim Bradford, the story now notes that the PDC does not regulate signs.