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Ask the PAC: Illegal political signs cause stir in Petaluma

Ask the PAC

This new weekly feature aims to get to the bottom of your most burning questions and provide insight into vexing daily curiosities.

If you would like your question featured in Ask the PAC, simply email askpac@arguscourier.com.

Hello, and welcome to the inaugural edition of Ask the PAC, a new Petaluma Argus-Courier feature that aims to answer our readers’ most burning questions.

This week, we’ll get to the bottom of a kerfuffle over political signs, and explore the surprisingly fascinating world of street light engineering.

Question: Political signs declaring California students “missing” have washed up all over Sonoma County, including in downtown Petaluma. Are these signs allowed on city property?

Answer: Nope. This question pertains to political speech, a delicate matter for government entities, said Petaluma City Attorney Eric Danly. But Petaluma’s prohibition on unauthorized placement of signs on public property is content neutral, meaning signs of all stripes are banned from the public square.

There are two key exceptions: You’re allowed to hand people signs, pamphlets or other materials in the public square, provided they’re willing to accept the handout. And you’re allowed to post signs in spots designated as a forum for speech, something city officials created temporarily at Leghorns Park last summer to protect a Black Lives Matter art installment.

There are currently no designated public forum spaces for signage in town, meaning the “Missing Children” signs placed by school reopening advocates will continue to be removed by city staff, Danly said.

Q: Traffic congestion has long been a sore spot for Petaluma motorists, particularly at some of the city’s most ornery intersections. One reader wants to know whether the city employs a traffic engineer, and how the city works to ensure signal timing is appropriate in town.

A: Petaluma’s traffic engineer Ken Eichstaedt works with two traffic signal technicians, who audit signal timing and functionality daily for the city’s 52 traffic signals. In setting timing, the city follows the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways.

That said, Eichstaedt said engineering staff is aware of some problem intersections, including McDowell Boulevard and East Washington Street, which reach capacity during rush hour and struggle to handle added traffic flows from the adjacent Highway 101 off ramp. The latter issue will be fixed with the Marin Sonoma Narrows Project, which will also space out the intersections, Eichstaedt said.

There’s more good news to come: The city will soon start an overhaul of the existing signal system, replacing outdated signals, the majority of which are more than 15 years old. For a preview of what’s to come, look no further than the Sonoma Mountain Parkway, which features a rehabilitated road, state-of-the-art traffic detection cameras, new controllers and fiber optic communications to centrally monitor signal performance.

If you notice a problem with a traffic signal, let the city know by going to cityofpetaluma.org/report-public-works-utilities-problem to fill out an online form, or call 707-778-4303 or email publicworks@cityofpetaluma.org.

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