Keagy: understanding the rules about political signs in Scottsdale

It’s that time of year – political signs are up throughout the Valley. During this period, it is common for people to contact the city with questions about what is allowed and what isn’t. Given that both state law and city ordinance regulate campaign signs, a succinct explanation is often helpful.

Raun Keagy

Arizona state law (ARS Sec. 16-1019) mandates that campaign signs be permitted in the public right of way and on private property within certain restrictions.

It is a violation of state law for anyone other than a candidate or their campaign committee to remove or alter a sign that has been legally placed. Absent an emergency, if a sign has been placed in violation of state law, the law directs the city to contact the candidate and give them 24 hours to relocate the sign.

If in violation beyond 24 hours, or if a sign is placed in an area that presents a hazard to public safety — blocking the sight lines at an intersection, for example — the city is permitted to relocate the sign immediately, while also notifying the candidate.

State law allows cities to designate “commercial tourism, commercial resort and hotel sign-free zones” to retain the “aesthetic appeal” of specific areas. Each city can designate a maximum of two contiguous sign-free zones with a maximum combined area of three square miles. Signs placed in sign-free zones may be removed without notice to the candidates.

Scottdale’s sign-free zones are located roughly along Scottsdale Road, from Earll Drive north to Via de Ventura, and along Bell Road from our western border with Phoenix to approximately Thompson Peak Parkway.

Some have compared Scottsdale unfavorably with our neighbors in Paradise Valley, which appears relatively sign-free during election season. State law, however, doesn’t allow larger sign-free zones in larger communities — each city is allowed three square miles. Paradise Valley’s sign-free zone covers a much larger percentage of their 15.5-square-mile community than in Scottsdale, which gets the same three square mile sign-free zone within 184 square miles of incorporated area.

An interesting situation has arisen this election cycle in Scottsdale. Even though three city council seats are up for election, a city primary election is not necessary because only five candidates are running for those seats. Scottsdale City Council seats will be decided at the Nov. 6 general election.

Candidates for city council, however, have already started placing campaign signs — some see this as a violation of the law.

This view is incorrect as state law does not differentiate between municipal, county, state or federal elections — it only says that signs that support or oppose any candidate for public office or any ballot measure can go up 60 days before the primary election, and must come down 15 days after the general election.

This means it does not matter which type of primary is being held only that one is occurring, and that the signs are not limited to those of candidates in a primary election. City council candidate campaign signs already up in Scottsdale are not violating state law even though the general election is still some 90 days away.

Find additional information and detailed maps of Scottsdale’s sign-free zones at ScottsdaleAZ.gov, search “campaign signs.”

Editor’s note: Mr. Keagy is the Scottsdale neighborhood services director

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