Senator Drafting Changes To Signage Law On Guam

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Limtiaco says decades-old legislation needs to be updated

By Joy White

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Marianas Business Journal, Dec. 30, 2013) – Come January, new signage laws may either help or hinder the ability of local businesses on Guam to utilize outdoor advertising to draw in business. The Guam signage law regulating the size and location of signs has not been updated for more than 50 years and has drawn the attention of Sen. Michael T. Limtiaco, who is drafting legislation to enable the Department of Public Works to enforce signage laws.

"If you take the current sign law and apply it to many of the signs you see, many people are not in compliance. They are violating the law," Limtiaco said.

According to Guam's laws on sign regulation, which can be found in Title 21, Part 5, of the Guam Code Annotated, outdoor signs should only take up 10% of a wall or structure and should be no larger than 40 square feet or 12 feet high. In addition, signs should be non-flashing and non-moving and must be affixed to a wall or structure.

The law specifically states that no signs for outdoor advertising or identification purposes can be erected "on property adjacent to any highway, road, street, boulevard, lane, court, place, summons, trail, way or other right-of-way or easement used for or laid out and intended for the public passage of vehicles or of vehicles and persons."

The law does not address signs that may be advertising products, like those seen on many convenience stores that display a product brand as well as the name of the business.

"We also need to ask the question of whether or not the sign laws need to be updated because the way we do business nowadays has changed drastically," Limtiaco said.

The law is outdated and does not address other forms of outdoor signs and advertising, such as electronic screens, Limtiaco said. "If you want to put an outdoor advertising monitor or TV, you need to go through the Land Use Commission and request a variance, and unless you're allowed a variance, you can't put one up," he said.

In addition to advertisements, the law also includes a provision for campaign and political signs stating they must only be established on public easements and are limited to a set time period surrounding elections.

Carl V. Dominguez, director of the Department of Public Works, said he is very concerned about the legality of signs - particularly political or campaign signs - and is looking into possibly getting an opinion from the attorney general. "One could interpret that the signs are illegal with the way [the law] is written," Dominguez said.

The director said there is enough time to resolve the issue before the campaign season begins.

"I think what draws a lot of [criticism] is [the fact that] the law is silent on what you can do on private property, although there have been several Supreme Court cases regarding the issue of freedom to put political signs on private property," Limtiaco said.

"I'm of the opinion they shouldn't be allowed on private property, but, of course, you see it all the time," said Limtiaco, who has confirmed he will be running for re-election. Limtiaco said current law dictates political signs cannot be displayed on private property. The legislator said he and his staff are looking into ways to address the issue of political signs.

The issue of sign regulation was discussed publicly at a roundtable held at the Guam Legislature in October. "What came of that roundtable is: 'Let's first start with the enforcement,'" Limtiaco said.

A way to enforce sign laws, he said, is to implement fines for violating the laws. The proceeds from the fines would, in turn, fund the enforcement. The problem with this, however, is that many businesses may see the fine as another cost of doing business, especially if the sign or advertisement brings in a lot of customers. To counter this, Limtiaco proposes putting more teeth into the law by not allowing businesses to renew their business licenses if they do not comply with the regulations and rectify their signs.

However, the major stakeholder in the issue - the business community - was not represented at the discussion. "Their ability to do business is predicated on how they draw traffic into their businesses, so sign laws directly affect them. But we didn't get that opportunity to get a lot of the business participation in there," Limtiaco said. Business owners are encouraged to provide comments and input on the law.

"We want our businesses to thrive on our island. They are our largest tax-paying entity. They employ people, they pay GRT, and we don't want to affect their business, but on the other hand, we have laws for a reason. We need to enforce them, and if laws are too restrictive, we need [local businesses] to participate in the process to look at expanding the legislations," the legislator said.

He said the legislation could be made public as early as January.

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