Rick Seifert, a resident in SW Portland's Hillsdale neighborhood, keeps a long pipe in his car, as part of his effort to keep the neighborhood clean. When he sees "signs placed illegally on utility poles" in his part of town—signs advertising things like junk removal or job websites—he removes them; if they're high up on a pole, the pipe comes in handy to knock them down. Seifert sometimes calls the sign's owners to let them know he's torn down their sign, and that the placards are an illegal blight on his neighborhood.

So Seifert—a neighborhood activist and community newspaper columnist—was surprised to read in the July 12 Oregonian that the city law banning those signs might be unconsitiutional according to the Multnomah County district attorney. In a memo regarding the case of Richard Prentice, who was arrested in June for hanging anti-cop posters downtown, the district attorney cited the Portland city attorney's past constitutional concerns about the law. The ordinance bans "notices or advertisements"—everything from posters for upcoming shows to commercial ads—"anywhere on a street right-of-way or upon the exterior of a public building." (Consequently, Prentice—whose arrest was first reported by the Mercury—will not be prosecuted.)

Concerned that District Attorney Michael Schrunk seemed to be setting aside the sign law, Seifert wrote to him on July 13 (and posted the letter on his blog, The Red Electric). Not prosecuting violations of the law "may serve as an open invitation for hundreds, if not thousands, of businesses to post all shapes and sizes of signs on Portland's utility poles," Seifert pointed out. Moreover, Seifert explained to the Mercury, he wanted to know if it was now illegal for him to remove the could-be-legit commercial signs (Seifert stresses that he leaves the DIY garage sale or lost-dog posters alone).

Schrunk replied to Seifert's letter a week later, explaining that "the Portland City Council has expressed concerns about this ordinance and a desire to rework its applicability from a constitutional perspective." However, those concerns came up in 2002, and the council has yet to address them.

"My office would not prosecute a person for taking signs off a utility pole that were not placed there by the owner of the pole," Schrunk wrote.

A representative for the district attorney adds that "the policy issues have to do with [the city]," which needs to decide what to do about the law.