Grassroots initiative fights Seattle ban on signs on poles, lampposts

Monday, March 8, 1999

SEATTLE — A grassroots organization calling itself Free Speech Seattle is
trying to repeal part of a 1994 city ordinance that prohibits the posting
of fliers and signs on city utility poles and lampposts.

The group hopes to collect 19,000 signatures to get an initiative — which has already been approved “as to form” by the Seattle City Clerk — on the city ballot.

“I feel that the current poster law is a direct violation of our free
speech,” said Tim Crowley, a leading organizer behind the initiative

“I think it has had a negative effect on political discourse in our city,”
Crowley told “It has dampened the flow of information and
especially affects alternative cultures. In addition it has hurt our music
communities in a significant way.”

According to a recent Free Speech Seattle press release, the group
believes the ordinance “has seriously damaged the local entertainment
industry, as few bands have the money or contacts to promote shows via
mainstream media.”

The group also believes that such posting helps people communicate about
lost pets, yard sales, community events and political messages.

“The United States in general and the City of Seattle in particular has a
long history of using public spaces for posting notices,” the group’s
official statement to the media asserted. “There are a quarter of a
million City Light utility poles. At an average cost of $3,000, this is a
huge public resource that should be available for the public to use.”

Free Speech Seattle will not try to overturn the entire “anti-postering”
ordinance but rather amend the portion pertaining to posters and signs on utility
poles and lampposts.

Opponents of the initiative, such as the city’s utility provider Seattle
City Light, believe the posters could cause a safety hazard for its
employees who have to climb the poles using spiked footgear to grip the
wood. A spokesperson for the utility has said that “workers could slide
down and receive serious injuries.”

Free Speech Seattle, however, is not convinced — in part because an
earlier “anti-postering” ordinance cited “visual blight” as the reason for
the ban. That ordinance was defeated on the grounds of it violated free speech rights.

Crowley wants to use the initiative effort to help get ordinary people
involved in the political process. The genesis of his own involvement, he
said, was “amazingly simple.” It started with an informal
discussion among friends, a mass electronic mailing to others who they
thought might be interested, and then meetings among concerned

“In many ways the campaign has taken on a life of it’s own,” Crowley said.
“We get new offers of help every day. One of my personal reasons for being
involved is to make an example that regular citizens can work together to
affect civic policy.”

Free Speech Seattle has a lot of work ahead of it, but Crowley is
optimistic. “It’s still very early in the process, but the campaign is
going very well and we are convinced we will acquire the number of
signatures needed.”