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Morning Notes

by ARLnow.com June 29, 2011 at 8:31 am 4,215 64 Comments

Sign Vigilante Arrested — “Arlington anti-sign vigilante” Robert Lauderdale is facing a felony grand larceny charge for allegedly stealing 240 apartment leasing signs from the Crescent Apartments near I-66. Lauderdale says he removes the signs to reduce clutter along his street and unilaterally enforce Arlington’s sign regulations. He was arrested, taken to jail and booked earlier this month after police showed up at his apartment in the wee hours of the morning. [Falls Church News-Press]

Virginia Is ‘Top State for Business’ — Virginia is once again “America’s Top State For Business,” according to CNBC. “Virginia is a perennial favorite with its strategic location, friendly business climate and diverse economy,” the channel said. The Commonwealth also captured the title in 2007 and 2009. [CNBC]

‘Flash Mob’ At Arlington Central Library — It lacked the spontaneity of a true “flash mob,” but the Bowen McCauley Dance company’s performance of “Mamma Mia” at Arlington Central Library over the weekend was, at least, cool to watch. [YouTube]

FBI Investigating Arlington Nat’l Cemetery Problems — The FBI is investigating possible criminal wrongdoing connected to the mishandling of remains and records at Arlington National Cemetery. The agency is looking into possible contracting fraud and falsification of records, among other potential crimes. [Washington Post]

  • TGEoA

    Go Robert!

  • BerryBerryCold

    Flash “mob” is a phrase that has been hijacked by the “youth” in our country while they go on crime sprees. We should probably call this a flash “gathering.”

  • ArlForester

    How can taking the signs be a felony to take the signs when they were left on public property? If I leave my wallet on a median strip, can I come back days later and expect it to be there or charge whoever took it with a crime?

    • ArlForester

      It sucks that you can’t edit a post after sending it………

    • Steve

      I don’ tknow about in Virginia ArlForester, but if you find property of another in NY, like a wallet, you have an obligation to take it to the police, who must hold it for a period of time, and if the rightful owner doesn’t claim it in the proper time, it becomes yours. If you don’t do that, you can be charged with a crime.

    • Thes

      It depends on whether a reasonable person would think you “abandoned” your property. In the case of a wallet or sign, a reasonable person would probably not think you wanted someone to take it away.

      However, why did the police need to arrest this guy at 4:58 a.m.? That seems excessive. Is it now police practice to conduct all home arrests, even of those accused of completely non-violent crimes, while people are asleep?

      • BerryBerryCold

        Was the SWAT team involved and/or was there a no-knock warrant?

      • ArlForester

        I don’t think it matters how you left it. If you leave something on public property, there isn’t a reasonable expectation that it will remain there.

        • doodly

          If you leave your car on the side of a public road, and someone takes it, would that be a felony too? Of course.

          Signs are also things that people put on public property, on purpose, with the expectation that they will be left alone and not taken.

          • ArlForester

            Thank you for the horrible example. Let’s assume there was a comparison. If I leave my car for a period of time, it is considered abandoned. These signs were clearly abandoned and therefore were allowed to be removed.

          • Josh S

            “Clearly?” I suspect the law is pretty lenient on that one.

          • doodly

            Were those signs clearly abandoned though? I don’t think so. They may have been placed illegally, but they weren’t abandoned. They weren’t like campaign signs after an election is over or something like that.

          • Stu Pendus

            If I park illegally, my car gets towed, even though I did not abandon it.

          • doodly

            Yes – but by the police, or a legally authorized towing company, not some random neighbor.

          • Stu Pendus

            But the question was whether the concept of abandonment is relevant to property being removed when it is illegally placed.

            Besides, this guy’s whole point is about getting Arlington to enforce their sign laws equally. The signs should be removed by Arlington, just like cars are.

          • doodly

            True – I was just pointing out with my car analogy that there are some things people leave on public property with the clear expectation that they are not abandoned and can’t just be taken. Cars are one. Clearly, some signs are too – you can’t just take down legally-placed signs. Whether you can take illegally-placed signs is about to be answered in court, I guess.

        • Law school

          Now I remember why I hated law school classes. keep going…one of you might make a decent point at some point. And don’t forget to throw in more reasonable language. That always does the trick.

          • doodly

            I’m sure law school hated you too.

          • ArlForester

            Kudos to you though. You reminded us all why we hate lawyers. Do me a favor, go leave your television on a median strip and tell me how it works out.

          • 123

            The television is actually worth something.

          • doodly

            A sign is worth something to the person who puts it up.

      • Steve

        Was there even an arrest warrant? You need one to arrest someone at home.

  • GMo

    This Arlington Cemetery business is reprehensible.

  • John Fontain

    The sign man was arrested for doing the County’s job (removing illegally placed commercial signs). That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.

    So my question is this: To charge him with this crime, the County must have probable cause to believe that he removed illegally place commercial signs, right? So has the County also charged Crescent with illegally placing the commercial signs that he removed? If not, I would expect them to do so.

    ARLnow, any idea on whether Crescent has been charged/fined in this matter?

    • doodly

      This assumes those signs were indeed illegally placed. Do we know they were?

      • John Fontain

        Yes, from the article:

        “Zoning administrator Melinda Artman appreciates Lauderdale, saying, “Crescent Apartments has put out multiple oversize signs on public property where they don’t belong.”

        • doodly

          That doesn’t mean all the signs are illegal. And the article also says that Crescent has received “mixed signals” from zoning officials about it. I don’t think it’s clear they are illegal. Still, doesn’t matter – illegally placed signs are still someone else’s property, according to the law.

          • John Fontain

            My original post had nothing to do with whether they were someone else’s property or not.

          • doodly

            Okay, but mine did.

    • Abigail Winterbottom

      Crescent has indeed gotten the attention of Arl zoning authorities relative to illegal placement of signage, but it has been at a ridiculously slow pace. But if past is prologue, that the signs are illegally sized or placed may be deemed to be irrelevant when a citizen (versus civil authority) removes them.

  • TuesdaysChild

    This county is ridiculous. They arrest a man for taking down illegal signs. Crazy waste of resources.

    • ArlForester

      Good thing he didn’t put out a fire. They’d charge him with arson.

    • doodly

      So if you get your own tow truck and tow illegally parked cars from the street, is that okay too?

    • doodly

      But I agree an arrest is an overreaction.

    • !

      How do you know the company didn’t insist on pressing charges? The police are not the final judge in a lot of cases. If you swear a complaint against a citizen who is breaking a law, then the police have to investigate it.

      There was a legitimate law Lauderdale was breaking if he was stealing the signs. As always, there is much more to this story. This guy has been hauled into court multiple times over 10 years for doing the same exact thing over and over. While I side with his cause (sign regulation enforcement), a vigilante is a vigilante is a vigilante and that cannot be tolerated in our society.

      • Josh S

        I don’t think the police are the final judge in ANY case. At least I hope not.

        • !

          What I meant was that sometimes the officer has the discretion to make an arrest or not. Think “disorderly conduct” or public intoxication. The final judgment is out of their hands once the arrest is made, of course.

      • KeepItFair

        “Vigilante” is a prejudicial and completely inaccurate term in this case. Mr. Lauderdale is a bona fide member of the Virginia Dept. of Transportation’s “Adopt-a-Highway” program and as such has authority to remove signs from VDOT right-of-ways. The signs are then turned in to VDOT, where violators may claim them after paying a $100/sign fine. The fact that Mr. Lauderdale has been repeatedly “hauled into court” only points out that Arlington County and VDOT don’t agree on where signs may be legally placed, and the poor volunteer is left to face the judge and pay the costs (which is disgraceful). The County has been given sign companies and their customers a free ride for a long time, by ignoring this issue.

    • BerryBerryCold

      “Illegal” has a different meaning in this county.

  • FedUp

    How come the County’s zoning employees who confiscated AND trashed the sandwich board that belonged to a business on N. Fillmore did not get charged? Double standard?

    • John Fontain

      “Double standard?”

      Unfortunately, yes. By law, only the County is allowed to remove illegally placed signs. This is supposedly to protect the safety of private citizens who might enter roadways to remove illegal signs from medians, etc., but I don’t necessarily believe this is the real reason it is illegal to remove illegal signs.

  • LauderdaleSupporter!

    I agree with ArlForester… Explain to me how they can even put signs up to begin with… “All property” is owned “by someone”… Did the sign placers get permission from the property owners??? Let’s use common sense here….

    • doodly

      Simple, there’s some law somewhere that says you can put signs on public property, and regulates that.

  • IKnowMrLauderdale

    John Fontain is not correct when he states that “by law, only the county is allowed to remove illegally placed signs.”

    • John Fontain

      Feel free to impart your wisdom on me…

  • Suburban Not Urban

    If people don’t think that a good job in this sign ordinance re-write is important, you obviously don’t know anything about this buisness and where this all started. This citizen had a perfectly understandable ire about what amounted to littering the local neighborhood with trash on a regular basis. I no lawyer so the legality of either side is not something I can comment on, but I do know if they make the new rules so that what the buisness was doing will be acceptable, then it will be another thing that the county does that I can’t support.

  • IKnowMrLauderdale

    Section 34.D.5 of the zoning ordinance states:

    “5. Signs on Public Lands: Signs hereafter placed on public lands contrary to the provisions of this section are subject to immediate removal.”

    This does not say by who but “subject to immediate removal”
    VDOT Adopt a Highway members may remove litter (including ALL signs) from the VDOT Right of Way.

    • Code Enforcer

      Yes but the ENFORCEMENT section of the zoning ordinance, says in Section 36. A.1. that the ordinance shall be enforced by the Zoning Administrator.

      i can’t say I know much about the VDOT side of it. If you adopt a few miles of road do you get to clear any public right of way?

      • Code Enforcer part 2

        I should finish the thought. Until the code says “The public may remove signs that don’t comply with the rules, he can be charged with larceny of someone’s property…again not knowing what being an adopt a highway member does for the case.

        I hate the signs too, but spend all of your time calling county offices and getting them to enforce the code through their penalties system. That’s the mature way to handle it, not following one guy around for 12 years tearing out signs.

        • Arlington citizen

          As you noted, the Arlington County zoning ordinance states: 5. Signs on Public Lands: Signs hereafter placed on public lands contrary to the provisions of this section are subject to immediate removal.”

          The zoning ordinance authorizes the zoning administrator to administer the ordinance. However, this authorization does not clearly prohibit others, such as the police or private individuals, from legally removing signs that are “subject to immediate removal.”

          The language in the zoning ordinance appears to be unconstitutionally vague in this regard, as it is subject to differing interpretations. The courts may need to decide whether the language in the ordinance is constitutional as this case proceeds through their system.

      • Abigail Winterbottom

        No, you can remove certain signs from a specific (defined) VDOT right-of-way. Arlington is a non-intuitive mish-mash of VDOT, Metro, County and private roads that defies easy identification.

  • Roquer

    If only Robert would do this with political signs maybe we could all get together and throw his bond.

  • Your Mom

    Flash Mobs are for unoriginal dorks. It’s a stupid trend. NERDS, NERDS, NERDS.

  • 5555624

    It sounds like Lauderdale should have removed the signs and returned them to the Crescent Apartments. He could argue he was returning property they had misplaced.

  • Arlington citizen

    As stated above:

    Section 34.D.5 of the zoning ordinance states:
    “5. Signs on Public Lands: Signs hereafter placed on public lands contrary to the provisions of this section are subject to immediate removal.”

    This does not say by who but “subject to immediate removal”

    Although the ordinance authorizes the Zoning Administrator to enforce the ordinance, this does not imply that others (such as the police or a private citizen) cannot also remove signs that are contrary to the ordinance.

    Further, a charge of larceny can only be sustained if the property has value. The signs in question had no value, because, as the article states, they were too large. Therefore, they cannot legally be erected anywhere in the County (and probably not in the City of Falls Church). Therefore, the signs are valueless. There are no grounds for the charges that the police have brought against Mr. Lauderdale.

    After a court has decided this case in Mr. Lauderdale’s favor, he should ask the police to file charges against the party that filed the complaint. That party has submitted a false complaint to the police. This is illegal.

    Further, Mr. Lauderdale should sue the party that filed the complaint, charging that the party has caused mental anguish,and damage to his reputation by committing libel. He may be entitled to damages

  • Abigail Winterbottom

    Even though the ordinance does not preclude private citizens from removing illegally placed signage, in a fair amount of case law, judges have not supported citizens who take on this sort of thing – even when civil authorities fail to do it on the behalf of the citizenry. As local government bodies have become financially strained in recent years and the for-profit signage junkies have stepped into the vacuum, we can only hope that some day soon a judge will take a more nuanced look at whether removing illegal signs is vigilantism or good citizenship.

    • Arlington citizen

      The local case law in Arlington is somewhat more complicated than your message implies. For example, an Arlington court has ruled that Mr. Lauderdale committed petit larceny when he admittedly removed real estate signs that someone had placed on private property that belonged to a third party. However, according to the case transcript, the court found too much ambiguity in the language of Arlington’s zoning to rule that Mr. Lauderdale had illegally removed signs on public right-of-ways that the Arlington County government controlled.

      Some day, an appellate court may examine the language of Arlington’s zoning ordinance that involves the removal of illegally placed signs on public lands (including parks, public buildings and public streets). Until that day comes, there will be no binding precedent that courts can cite when making relevant rulings.

      Last winter, the Arlington County Board revised its zoning ordinance to permit courts to assess penalties on people and organizations that “knowingly” permit others to violate the zoning ordinance on their behalf. If the County’s zoning office and the Commonwealth attorney pursue this new avenue, the management of The Crescent may find itself in deep doo-doo.

      • Code Enforcer part 3

        I think if something says it is enforceable by someone like a zoning administrator, that would imply it is to the exclusion of others…

        I’m sure we could have a debate about that, but to me if it names someone and it doesn’t have Joe public listed, Joe public isn’t included.

        • Arlington citizen

          If a law is too vague for people to readily understand, it is unconstitutional. That may be true for the section of Arlington’s zoning ordinance that involves the removal of illegally placed signs on public lands.

          Appellate courts and supreme courts overturn laws when they find them to be unconsitutional. Those are the proper forums for debates such as this one.

      • Abigail Winterbottom

        I was referring to the larger context of case law (in Arl and in Virginia)
        that pertains to any situation where a citizen takes action in the absence of authorities taking action on a code or law violation. (Sometimes referred to as vigilantism, which I think is a hyperbole when discussing what Mr. Lauderdale does.)

  • first tiger

    All these signs a a scorge on our environment-visual blight, if you will. They are graffitti on our landscape and should simply be outlawed and absolute granting of removal without proscecution to those who give of their time and gas to remove them. I don’t know about Arlington, but Fairfax County requires a permit to place a sign, even in windows of a business. A one hundred dollar fine is supposed to be given. Think of all the lost revenue because zoning does not enforce the applicable law! Give me the authority (or Robert) and one pickup truck and we could bring thousands of dollars into the hurting budgets. And after awhile, we would be out of a job because the violators would find their unlawful conduct useless and very expensive.

    • Arlington citizen

      The main problem in Arlington is that, for budgetary reasons, the County’s inspectors do not work on weekends. Some sign installers know this. They put up their illegal signs on Friday night or Saturday morning and remove the signs before Monday.

      It is therefore impossible for the County’s inspectors to remove the signs.

      Violations of the sign ordinance are criminal offenses. Therefore, Arlington County (and probably Fairfax County) cannot assess penalties for violations of the sign ordinance. A Court can assess such penalties, but must be presented by the Commonwealth Attorney with evidence, testimony and a verification of the identity of the offender (until recently, only the person that installed the illegal sign). As the inspectors do not work on weekends, they could neither collect evidence nor identify the offenders.

      If the law is the same in Fairfax County, even if you had the authority, you could not bring any money into the Fairfax County budget unless you could identify the person that erected the illegal sign. That is much more difficult than simply removing the sign.

      Last January, in response to citizen complaints at Board meetings, the Arlington County Board amended its zoning ordinance in the manner that my previous message described. This changed the situation.

      Anyone can now photograph an illegal sign and its surroundings on a weekend. That person can send or transmit the photograph and a description of the location and the violation to the Zoning Administrator or to Code Enforcement. Code Enforcement or the Zoning Administrator can then identify the business that the sign is advertising or promoting. The Administrator or an inspector can then formally notify the business of the violation. If future photographs demonstrate that the signs are still appearing (even on weekends), the Zoning Administrator can determine that the business placed the illegal signs “with knowledge”. If the Commonwealth Attorney agrees to take the matter to Court, people can watch the County’s budget shortfall curtailed.

      This only applies to County-owned streets and lands. It does not apply to right-of-ways that VDOT controls. However, VDOT controls only a relatively small number of highways and roads in Arlington. In general, these are the ones that bear signs indicating that they are state, U.S., or interstate routes. All of the rest are County right-of-ways that are subject to the County’s zoning ordinance.

      If you want to help Fairfax County add money to its budget shortfall, learn which streets and roads the County controls and which roads VDOT controls. Then read the County’s sign ordinance. After a few interactions with the County’s zoning administrator, you should be able to do something about the illegal sign problem without having to personally remove any signs.

      • Abigail Winterbottom

        Yeah, but good luck in trying to get either Fairfax or Arlington to go after the signage placement law breakers. It is an exceedingly slow and tedious process. Mr. Lauderdale has been going exactly this route for a number of years and he ends up charged with larceny while the sign junksters keep on rolling.

    • Abigail Winterbottom

      The zoning authorities in counties and cities across the nation are grossly understaffed relative to the proliferation of street spam. If there is untapped revenue sitting out there waiting for the local authorities to grab it, why haven’t they done so?

      I suggest again that signage placement (both illegal and permitted) is big business. The sign placement entities have their studies which tell them what they can gain from erecting street spam versus what they spend to place the signs . . . the cities and counties calculate what they have to spend to enforce anti-signage
      rules . . . But the game-changing wild card is that the signage placement industry hires people to pester County Board
      reps/ locally elected officials to “support the business community” and/or “free speech” . . . via (unregulated) signage. I’ve personally sat through endless public forums on this issue in both Arl and Fairfax and listened to our official reps argue that acting on the street spam problem is anti-business or impinges on free speech. When the citizenry weighs in on this issue (usually when someone like Mr. Lauderdale pisses off one of the signage profiteers to an extent that he ends up in the news) invariably, most folks support more aggressive restriction of the signage.

      But these folks do not show up at Board meetings or pester their elected reps to enforce (or revise) the rules pertaining to signage.

      Look at the criticism the current (departing) Arl County zoning senior authority has endured by merely talking about enforcing the existing (flimsy) rules. Note that VDOT lends token support to good citizens like Mr. Lauderdale but is oddly silent when a well-heeled corporate Goliath drags him into court.

      Deep Throat said it best: follow the money.

      Mr. Lauderdale has devoted countless hours to changing the playing field on this issue and largely, he is still out there by himself. The only thing that is going to change this is genuine and persistent citizen involvement on a large scale.


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