Durango City Council approved two new rules Tuesday, one that brings the city into compliance with the U.S. Constitution and another that civil rights lawyers say would violate it.
City councilors unanimously approved the ordinances: an introduction of the new sign code and final approval of camping rules on city owned property. City councilors did not discuss either issue during their meeting.
Sign codeDurango staff rewrote the city’s sign code in reaction to a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision that found it unconstitutional to regulate signs based on what is on them. Real estate signs, the court opined, should not be regulated any differently from political signs.
The high court said signs can be regulated based on time, place and manner. That legal principle permits the city to say when and for how long a sign may be up, where signs can be put and how the signs are constructed.
The new sign code, introduced to City Council on Tuesday, changes city rules to regulate temporary signs, allowing an aggregate of 12 square feet of signage with no restrictions on content. In residential zones, signs could be up for an unlimited amount of time.
A total of 48 square feet of signage is allowed 30 days before an election. The additional signage allowed before an election can say anything; it doesn’t have to be a political sign.
The new code also continues a ban on A-frame signs, commonly known as sandwich boards. The Business Improvement District said the sign code rewrite was an opportunity to address sandwich boards, but businesses are split on the issue.
Some businesses say sandwich boards should be allowed because they’re an effective and cheap means of marketing. Other businesses say the sidewalks are already crowded enough and that sandwich boards would only further congest Main Avenue.
The sign code as proposed allows sandwich boards only on private property. City staff have committed to working with business owners to come up with a compromise.
Camping rulesCity Council adopted new rules to address homeless camping in Durango in reaction to a 9th Judicial Circuit Court decision that found it unconstitutional to make it illegal for someone to sleep on public property when there is nowhere else to go.
The new camping rules allow people to shelter in a location identified by the city manager or other designated official from one hour before sunset to one hour after sunrise when there is nowhere else to go.
The American Civil Liberties Union took issue with Durango’s rules about people experiencing homelessness, saying the ordinance violates the Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment, 14th Amendment guarantee to equal protection under the law and the Americans with Disabilities Act requiring equity for people with disabilities.
City Attorney Dirk Nelson has held that the camping and sheltering ordinance does bring the city into compliance with the U.S. Constitution.