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Forbidden Signs of the Times

By On
• In Bellingham,

“Bellingham Municipal Code 10.24.070

Sitting or lying on public sidewalks prohibited.

A. Prohibition. No person shall sit or lie down upon a public sidewalk, or upon a blanket, chair, stool, bollard, planter, fountain, railing or any other object placed upon a public sidewalk, during the hours between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. in the following zones:

1. Central Business District (“CBD”) ...

2. The Fairhaven Business District (“FBD”) ...”

A quick visit to either of these districts will demonstrate that sandwich boards may have more rights than people. During a short walk in Fairhaven a few days ago, I photographed a slew of these signs, many of which were blocking the sidewalk in significant ways. I almost tripped over one that, unlike the others, was about one-foot tall and hidden by a trash can until I tried to skirt the can. (Click on the image arrows above to view the problem.)

The city code on “sitting and lying” is purportedly to assist in keeping the sidewalks open and safe for pedestrians. I will not get into a discussion of the possibilities for misuse of this ordinance as that is not the topic here. If the city is intent on safe sidewalks, it ought to enforce elimination of all impediments, sandwich boards included.

There is, in fact, a prohibition of “off premises”* signs in the Fairhaven Urban Village, to wit:

“20.37.370 Fairhaven urban village – Signs ...

D. Standards.

1. Unless specified otherwise herein, the following
signs are prohibited:

a. Off-premises*, billboard, and rooftop….”

Rules for signage in the Central Business District are more murky and, as far as I have been able to determine, do not speak to “off premise”* signs. Nonetheless, Fairhaven should deal with its sandwich board sign situation. A look at the Central Business District shall follow on this site.

*Sign, off-premises’ means any sign other than a banner or billboard, defined above, which advertises an establishment, merchandise, service, goods, or entertainment which is sold, produced, manufactured or furnished at a place other than on the property on which said sign is located.

About Dick Conoboy

Editor • Member since Jan 26, 2008

Dick Conoboy is a recovering civilian federal worker and military officer who was offered and accepted an all-expense paid, one year trip to Vietnam in 1968. He is a former Army [...]

Comments by Readers

Jon Humphrey

Mar 22, 2018

Hey, there’s a Best Buds Sign. That place is awesome! You should stop in and play some Sonic on the Genesis that “someone I know” might have just refurbished. Seriously though, for shops like Best Buds and Moon Base, that are jammed into the back corner of MacKenzie Alley they do really help boost business. Perhaps a vertical sinage at eye level, say attached to the wall, would be a better permenant solution, but in the meantime I think they’re helping these businesses out and we definatley need to help grow nerd culture as much as possible.   


Dick Conoboy

Mar 23, 2018


Thanks for the invitation to play at Best Buds, the first one I have had to visit that place.  I have never played a computer game in my life and at 74, my hand eye coordination is not getting better if it was ever good at all.  That is why I made my career in jobs that did not require those skills.  So forgive me if I politely, decline.  I can relate to the beer part of the invtation for which I will gladly take up your offer at some more tranquil establilshment.

That being said and getting back to my article, my purpose was to bring to light the hazards that these sandwich boards present.  They are placed willy-nilly on Fairhaven’s sidewalks often blocking the wheel chair access ramps from the street (I had to move one several days ago at the corner of Harris and 11th Sts. that was placed directly in the path of a wheel chair ramp)  We engineer sidewalks at great expense to be safe and when they are not we take action.  Think about how many cans of day-glo orange paint is used to alert pedestrians to the slightest uneveness of the pavement.  Those with vision problems are accomodated with the rubberized bumps at many intersections to indicate that they are about to enter the roadway.  Yet we, in the name of commerce, throw most of that away by allowing the proliferation of these parkour obstacles on our commons.  Wind knocks them over where they lie so as to advertize solely to low flying aircraft while becoming less visible to pedestrians. 

So as we are asked to densify by creating urban villages like Fairhaven, enforcement of codes that make living in tight spaces more humane, the city needs to pay attention to these laws on noise, parking, obstruction of sidewalks, litter, traffic (sit on the bench next to Mr. Donovan at 11th and Harris and watch people blow through the stop signs), etc.  


Sam Crawford

Mar 25, 2018

Cranky cranky.  Let Fairhaven businesses thrive. If sandwich boards help, who cares? I think they look kind of cool.


Dick Conoboy

Mar 25, 2018


“Cool” or not, I think the safety of the citizens wins out well over the convenience of the businesses. But then again I am just a softie for human beings.


Tim Paxton

Mar 27, 2018

Quick video showing The Bellingham Police cracking down on humans sitting on side walk.    (Sandwich signs are safe.)

Young women forced to get up and dance to that music.   Good work police.






Tom Dohman

Mar 30, 2018
I enjoyed reading your “exposé” on sidewalk hazards on Nextdoor.  A little humor can go a long way towards disarming readers - while driving home an important safety point.
It’s long been a pet peeve of mine as well when I see such hazards on sidewalks.  Having interacted with blind citizens, it really “opens one’s eyes” to how important it is to keep public sidewalks & street crossings free from unexpected obstacles.
Small businesses need to get creative in devising a better & safer (and even LEGAL) ways to attract customers than tripping them up.  There are enough distractions in our world as it is.
Tom Dohman

Dick Conoboy

Mar 30, 2018

Thanks, Tom.  You know me for my humorlessness already.  Humorlessness in the fight against signs is no vice… and levity is no virtue.   Didn’t Barry Goldwater says someting like that?  :-)

I’ll be writing (with humor) next about the central business district where signage is also an issue albeit perhaps less so. 



Dick Conoboy

Apr 13, 2018
The following comment was placed on NextDoor regarding the article above.  To contact Scott Ward, go to NextDoor.com

, ·1d ago

The Historic Fairhaven Association has heard your concerns here. We will be looking into options, solutions, and suggestions to moving forward. If you would like to participate on this task force, in a proactive way (no need for more sharing of concerns) please let me know.

Dick Conoboy

Apr 13, 2018

My note to Scott Ward  on NextDoor:  “thanks to the association for taking some action on this.  Again today (Friday 13 April), two sandwich boards at 11th and Harris went airborne during the lunch hour, luckily hitting no one although one went into the street. “

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