The City of St. Petersburg is working to stop a dangerous public scourge. The politicians have unleashed teams of enforcers and monitors to make sure that the public is safe. The enforcers have put the transgressors on notice: Comply or face the consequences! Yes, the crisis of the electronic sign will soon be under the benevolent control of our local government. For all signs that is, except those signs the government owns itself! (note: Dr. McKalip, founder of this blog and author of this article is running for City Council in St. Petersburg and owns a business referred to in this article.)
Last November, the courageous City Council put the finishing touches on a two year project to stop small businesses from having useful electronic signs on their properties. During these hard economic times, as businesses are struggling and people are looking to be hired, the City Council decided that no electronic sign should change its message more than every 60 seconds. None of them should have any text that moved or scrolled in any way. Consumers should not be able to drive by a store and learn that milk is on sale and that there is a two for one special on laundry detergent in the same 6 second span. Now the city codes inspectors have taken it upon themselves to go out and enforce this misguided and unnecessary policy. There have been no complaints from any citizens about these signs. Not one is on record. Yet the codes people are out making the city “safe” from letters that move and messages that may change every six seconds or so. Those business people out of compliance will face a $500 fine per instance of violation.
Of course, there is only one target for the transgressors: The small business owner. Right down the road from one of the sign owners noticed of his transgression is Shore Acres Elementary School. It has had an electronic sign up for many years now. On February 12, the sign was advertising a “chili cook off” with flashing letters and messages that changed every three seconds.
The City has sent “violations notices” or issued verbal warnings to five businesses since the ordinance was created in November 2012. However, the city has issued no such warnings or violation notices to at least two elementary schools that have electronic signs commonly in violation of the code. These include Shore Acres Elementary school on 62nd Ave N. and Thurgood Marshall Middle School on 22nd Ave. S. This is a case of unequal application of justice by a city government abusing its power. The city has decided it will go after business owners but has taken no action against the government run schools that commit the same violations. Furthermore the city has exempted the large sign outside Tropicana Field on I-275 from these laws. Also, art venues like the American stage Company on third St. N. which has basically no limit on its electronic sign usage since it is an “art” venue.
The citizens of St. Petersburg deserve better than a government that attacks small businesses and kills jobs in a down economy. The government should not use one set of rules for average citizens and a different set of rules for government agencies or those in special classes like sports teams or arts groups.