Illegal billboards busted as city's efforts pay off 

There are certain intractable problems in San Francisco: homelessness; drug dealing in the Tenderloin; crime in certain parts of the South of Market, Mission and Bayview neighborhoods. But we are happy to learn that one of them isn’t the proliferation of illegal — and, frankly, annoying — billboards.

In 2002, voters passed Proposition G, which put a limit on the number of billboards placed around The City. Since then, government officials have been diligently canvassing the town, counting the number of billboards and determining which ones are legal and which ones aren’t.

And when they aren’t, The City has not been shy about removing them. As The San Francisco Examiner has reported, local officials have successfully removed a total of 733 illegal billboards throughout The City.

The billboard industry is fascinatingly tenacious; between February 2011 and this March, property owners slapped up 40 new illegal advertisements. The money, is seems, is just too good to resist the temptation to break the law.

But let’s be clear: billboards can be an irritating eyesore, and there should be a limit to how many signs beg us to buy something as we go about our day. The voters have expressed exactly how many they are willing to put up with.

Yes, some “vintage” billboards have historic merit. As The S.F. Examiner’s story pointed out, an old, rather charming Coca-Cola sign in Bernal Heights was slated for removal. But neighbors raised just enough of a fuss to cause city officials to rethink their decision.

This is responsive, democratic government in action. It shows that city officials are rigorous about enforcing the law, while remaining open to the concerns of local residents. They are being both serious and reasonable.

According to a city inventory, there are still 109 billboards that are considered illegal and scheduled to be removed. Another 26 are a little too big, a little too bright or don’t have the requisite identification numbers.

From corporate sponsorship of high school sports to ads above the urinals in Mission district bars, advertising has been creeping into every aspect of our lives. The voters have said enough, at least as far as billboards are concerned.

San Franciscans have a right to go about their business without ads on every block obscuring the beauty of this city. The City has delineated clear guidelines for what constitutes a legal or illegal billboard. Landlords will always try to sneak one in under the radar, but they must be informed in no uncertain terms that this will not be tolerated. We encourage The City to continue cracking down on illegal billboards, and to get rid of, or bring into compliance, the last 109 remaining scofflaws in short order.

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