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Mukilteo to host Public Hearing on sign code impacting political and businesses signs

MUKILTEO, Wash., December 10, 2023—The Mukilteo City Council will be voting to approve both Community Support Grant recommendations and Co-Sponsorship Grant awards for 2024, the 2023 Budget amendments, and then will hold a Public Hearing on the City’s sign code at a Special Meeting 6:00 p.m., Monday, December 11.

This meeting will be held both in-person and can watch the live streaming of Council Meetings at www.mukilteowa.gov, Facebook Live or Zoom.

Below are the key council agenda items. To view the full agenda, click here.

Mukilteo Sign Code Ordinance Amendment Public Hearing

The Mukilteo City Council will hold a Public Hearing on a proposed Sign Code Ordinance Number 1488 and may vote adopt said ordinance after the hearing.

According to supporting documents in the agenda, City staff worked with the City Attorney to refine temporary sign regulations to be consistent with both state court ruling in Collier v. City of Tacoma in 1993 and Supreme Court ruling in Reed v. Town of Gilbert in 2015. The proposed changes and draft regulations were discussed at the September 11, 2023, City Council Work Session and at the September 21, 2023, and October 19, 2023, Planning Commission meetings.

According to the City the proposed Sign Code Ordinance intends to:

  • Remove content-based regulations
  • Eliminate the Master Signage Plan process
  • Introduce a way to track and manage temporary signs
  • Consolidate sign regulations from other sections of Title 17 into Chapter 17.80
  • Simplify language and structure to make regulations easier to read and administer

Supporting documents: AB 2023-152, AB 2023-152 Exhibit 1, and AB 2023-152 Exhibit 2.

The Lynnwood Times dug deeper into the proposed ordinance and case law to really understand what the City’s Planning Commission is proposing as the City apparently has been in noncompliance with the Reed decision for over eight years. 

The ordinance removes all definitions of sign content types (e.g. content-based signs such as political, real estate, event, noncommercial, construction, etc.) to be replaced by physical sign characteristics then imposing uniform content-neutral regulations of time, placement, and size against so called “Temporary Signs.”

The ordinance does NOT expressly state if it applies only to public property as does the current ordinance and requires all temporary signage to be registered with the City and any violation is subject to a $25 per sign impound fee. Although the proposed ordinance requires temporary signs to be registered with the City of Mukilteo, it fails to mention if a fee will or will not be imposed, and if the registration is valid for a single or multiple signs. Yet, Section 17.80.060 of the proposed ordinance states, “Applicants have six months to pay fees once they have been notified the permit is ready to issue.”

In reviewing signage laws for various cities throughout Washington State including Seattle, Bellevue, and Everett, registering temporary signs are not required that we can find.

Below are additional proposed changes to the current Mukilteo Municipal Code regarding Temporary Signs:

  • Limited all temporary signs to 3-square-feet (small) from 8-square-feet (medium size). Other cities had four-, six- and eight-square-feet requirements.
  • Prohibits Wooden-stake lawn signs in favor of Wire-stake lawn signs
  • Imposes a 30-day and 60-day limitation on temporary signage that can be renewed. The option to renew makes this portion of the ordinance compliant with the 1993 Collier v. City of Tacoma decision. However, again, the ordinance fails to state if a fee is associated with the renewal of temporary sign permit.
  • Allows banners up to 45-square-feet (9-ftx5-ft) and does not appear to allow feather signs (wind-resistant flag signs)

Members of the business community have shared with the Lynnwood Times that none were included in discussions for feedback on how the proposed changes will impact BIPOC and small businesses, especially new businesses. Members in both the Republican and Democratic parties were neither consulted nor invited to participate in discussions by the Planning Commission of how this may impact political signage, campaigns, and ballot initiatives.

The Supreme Court ruled that content-based law or regulation discriminates against speech based on the substance of what it communicates. However, the Supreme Court allows exceptions. Content-based signage has speech with a targeted message such as “Vote for ABC candidate” or “Support/Reject Initiate XYZ” or “Public invited to Mukilteo Lighthouse Festival on…” or “Need help moving, call….” or “Garage Sale at ….” or “Church Service at …”

On the other hand, content-neutral regulations (e.g. removing content-based regulations as it is stated in the agenda for the Public Hearing) targets the time, place, and manner the speech occurs—e.g. size limits, duration of sign period, animated, etc.— and not its content. A content-neutral law applies to expression without regard to its substance. 

The Supreme Court reiterated the long-standing principle that a content-based regulation is valid only if it serves a compelling state interest and is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest – political signage. Also, Content-based laws face “strict scrutiny” under the law while content-neutral laws are subject to “intermediate scrutiny.”

Courts apply “intermediate scrutiny” to content-neutral regulations and “strict scrutiny” to content-based regulations. The differences between these levels of judicial review are critical, since sign regulations subject to intermediate scrutiny often survive the judicial review process when challenged, but sign regulations subject to strict scrutiny are only rarely upheld.

The United States Supreme Court has held that even in a public forum, the government may impose reasonable restrictions on the time, place, and manner of protected speech, provided the restrictions are content neutral, are narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest, and leave open ample alternative channels of communication.

In Reed v. Town of Gilbert, the 2015 Supreme Court case the Planning Commission is using to justify the change, the Court listed several content-neutral options for regulating signage, including: “size, building materials, lighting, moving parts, and portability. “The Court also recognized that local governments may forbid signs altogether on public property if it is done in “an evenhanded, content-neutral manner.”

Variances are allowed through a process similar to that of zoning variances in the zoning code which, according to 17.13, is an administrative process (no hearing required), determined by the Director of Planning, and has up to 90-days to determine notice of final decision. According to 17.64, the variance is limited to predetermined conditions, and is determined by the permit authority—the City of Mukilteo according to the MMC—and must be accompanied by an application with a fee. The Lynnwood Times is looking into whether the 17.13 administrative process appeal does require a fee as well.

According to the MRSC, appellate courts have upheld that Reed does not extend to the regulation of commercial signs.

2023 Year End Budget Amendment

The Council will vote to adopt Ordinance No. 1491, amending the 2023 Budget for Facilities Maintenance, Fund 518, and formalizing a previous approved expenditure, adjusting award amount of Hotel/Motel Lodging Tax grant to the Lighthouse Festival City Staff Support.

The 2023 Year-end Budget Amendment addresses the following changes:

  • General Fund: Additional transfer-out to Facilities Maintenance, Fund 518, to increase various line-item expenditures by a total of $245,594.
  • Facilities Maintenance
    • Additional transfer-in from the General Fund to increase the Facilities Maintenance fund by $245,594.
    • Additional increase to City Hall expenditures: $18,794.
    • Additional increase to the Mukilteo Police Dept expenditures: $24,205.
    • Additional increase to the Mukilteo Fire Dept expenditures: $32,955.
    • Additional increase to Public Works expenditures: $41,186.
    • Additional increase to Recreation and Cultural Development expenditures: $77,509.
    • Additional increase in Hawthorne Hall Utilities expenditure: $860.
    • Additional increase for Lighthouse expenditures; $6,406.
    • Additional increase in Salary/Wages expenditures: $29,735.
    • Additional increase in Benefits expenditures: $8,427.
    • Additional increase in Facilities Maintenance general operating expenditure: $5,517.
  • Hotel/Motel Lodging Tax: Formalizing the approved Hotel/Motel Lodging Tax grant award to the Lighthouse Festival City Staff Support from $29,000 to $33,000. Staff incorrectly recorded the grant award as $29,000 instead of $33,000

Supporting documents: AB 2023-176, AB 2023-176 Exhibit 1, AB 2023-176 Exhibit 2

Community Support Grant Recommendations

Every year, the City of Mukilteo awards $10,000 in Community Grants. For both fiscal years 2024 and 2025, the award amount has increased to $50,000 each year following action from the City Council allocating American Rescue Plan Act dollars for that purpose.

  • The Council will vote to approve the following 2024 Community Support Grant recommendations:
  • City of Mukilteo Recreation & Cultural Services Senior Programs, $7,500
  • City of Mukilteo Recreation and Cultural Services Indoor Playground, $6,500
  • Mukilteo Firefighters Benevolent Fund Egg Hunt, $1,800
  • Mukilteo Seniors Association Osher, $2,000
  • Mukilteo Food Bank Refrigeration System Replacement, $7,950
  • South Mukilteo Rotary Foundation Rotary School Food Pantry, $2,000
  • South Mukilteo Rotary Foundation Rotary for Kids Holiday Shopping, $2,000
  • South Mukilteo Rotary Foundation Rotary Thanksgiving Baskets, $4,000
  • Mukilteo Mukfest Pirates of Salish Sea Mukilteo Mukfest Pirates, $1,250
  • Kiwanis Club of Mukilteo Lighthouse Festival Kiwanis Salmon Bake, $1,000
  • Mukilteo Police Foundation Police Activities League, Shop with a Cop, Chief for a Day, $4,000
  • Mukilteo Community Garden Mukilteo Community Garden Infrastructure Replacement Project, $1,500
  • Mukilteo Chamber of Commerce Connect Mukilteo Website, $1,500
  • Sound Salmon Solutions Environmental Education for Mukilteo Schools, $2,000
  • Mukilteo Family YMCA Community Nights at the YMCA, $3,000
  • Mukilteo Community Orchestra Mukilteo Consolidated School Student Musicians and Mukilteo Community Orchestra Joint Multigenerational Performance in Spring 2024, $2,000

Supporting documents: AB 2023-187, AB 2023-187 Exhibit 1, AB 2023-187 Exhibit 2, AB 2023-187 Exhibit 3, AB 2023-187 Exhibit 4

Co-Sponsorship Grant Awards

The City’s Co-Sponsorship program provides an opportunity for community members and groups to use facility space at Rosehill Community Center and the parks at no cost. These are nonmonetary awards and constitute facility use only.

The Council will vote to approve the recommended awards for City Co-sponsored facility use grants:

  • Project Linus Make a Blanket Day
  • Kamiak Performing Arts Booster Club Big Band Dance
  • Mukilteo YMCA Community Campaign Kickoff Fundraiser
  • Hugs for Ghana International Cultural Night Fundraiser
  • Packs for Kids Annual Luncheon Fundraiser
  • Mari’s Place for the Arts Annual Fundraiser
  • Mukilteo Chamber of Commerce Lunch Hour Speaker Series
  • Pathfinder Manufacturing Class of 2024 Graduation
  • Everett/Mukilteo Rotary Scholarship Luncheon
  • Mukilteo Little League Coaching Clinics
  • Mukilteo Lighthouse Quilters
  • Bloodworks NW
  • Mukilteo Lighthouse Association
  • Mukilteo Chamber of Commerce

Supporting documents: AB 2023-186, AB 2023-186 Exhibit 1, AB 2023-186 Exhibit 2, AB 2023-186 Exhibit 3

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