Photo by Doug Beghtel / The Oregonian
Rise and fall of Blazers' slogan
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
The giant steel grain silo across the street from the Rose Garden has become the focus of attention among the good city workers charged with sign compliance.
The Trail Blazers' "Rise With Us" slogan hangs from that structure.
Turns out the Blazers could have painted their slogan on the silo. Or they could have glued it to the side. Or they could have curved the sign more snugly around the contour of the silo and still met city code.
But what the Blazers could not do was hang a 128-foot by 60-foot vinyl banner that cost their marketing department $15,000 from the silo. Attaching the banner in a way that no sign had been attached to the silo before is what city electrical inspectors term a "structural alteration," which is why the NBA franchise has been notified that it must remove the sign by Feb. 8 or pay a $100-per-day fine.
Understand, Blazers owner Paul Allen has attempted, unsuccessfully, on various occasions to purchase this silo. He owns the riverfront land adjacent to the structure, and the people who work for him are exploring uses for the land. But the Blazers' primary use for the grain silo, to date, is to carry the hopeful message of the franchise.
Now, it's carrying a broader question: Portland really is a strange place, isn't it?
City sign inspectors don't drive around looking for non-compliant signs, see. In fact, even if a sign doesn't meet regulations, the inspectors usually won't issue a directive to remove the sign unless a citizen complains about it by telephone, e-mail or fax.
Which means that some careful citizen, probably one driving on Interstate 5, looked over, saw the team's "Rise With Us" sign dangling from the silo and decided having the sign removed was a worthwhile cause.
Consider that, according to inspectors, someone once forced Providence Hospital to take down an "Emergency Room" sign because it was non-compliant. Also, if schools, or charities, flout the law, and someone complains, they receive a letter from the city, requiring them to move the sign or risk a fine.
Said John Hauck, a senior inspector: "We have what you'd call a few sign vigilantes who, if something doesn't appear to be within the law, call us and complain."
Hauck said citizens call to complain about having adult-entertainment signs within view of their homes. And he said citizens complain that the bright lights on certain billboards shine into their bedrooms, keeping them up at night. And he said citizens call to complain about piles of forgotten "Lost Dog" and "Garage Sale" signs that remain tacked to telephone poles, long after the dog is found and the sale is over.
Except the inspectors will tell you that the first amendment prohibits them from controlling content, even of the adult-entertainment variety. And that there's often nothing they can do about lights, unless the sign owner offers to change the bulbs. And that telephone poles are under the jurisdiction of the utility company, not the city, so there's nothing the inspectors can do about those.
Still, those kinds of issues can be a nuisance, so you understand why they'd cause a concerned party to issue a formal complaint.
But who exactly was "Rise With Us" bothering?
The Denver Nuggets?
As part of city policy, chief inspector Dave Roshak declined to identify the "Rise With Us" banner complainant. But Janice Doell, the city employee who fielded the call, said: "Let's just say, if you had put anything up there, this guy would have complained."
What we have here is a hobbyist. Probably someone who was aware that the silo previously had a perfectly legal painted sign, and that hanging a vinyl banner, even a harmless one with three words on it, violated code.
Psychologists say that people chronically complain as a habit, or because they believe it makes them look more intelligent and assertive, or because it gives them something to do. In this case, the complaint has given city employees, and inspectors, and Blazers marketing personnel and executives, and a sign company that will remove the banner, something to do as well.
You can't blame the city for asking the Blazers to remove what ends up a non-compliant sign. And you can't really blame the Blazers, who said they're going to comply and remove the banner. I suppose you can't even blame the whistleblower. Still, there's something about all this that feels bizarre, especially when you consider that the silo isn't in a residential area, and that the message hanging from that banner feels innocent.
I keep thinking, "Keep Portland Weird."
You know, the bumper sticker slogan. Except, today, I want to add a "?" at the end of it.
Just don't go hanging anything like that from a grain silo.