There may be fewer political signs cluttering Arlington's roadways and utility poles this fall as the result of a County Board resolution calling for written pledges by candidates to obey the county's sign laws.
"Those who care about the environment will sign it," said board Vice Chairman Albert C. Eisenberg, who proposed the resolution asking candidates to sign the pledge within 14 days of declaring for office.
"Instead of spending the taxpayers' money to enforce county sign laws , we'll go to the source of the problem, the candidates themselves," said Eisenberg, whose resolution was approved by the board's four Democrats and lone Republican, Michael E. Brunner.
Although County Manager Larry J. Brown will draft the actual pledge, the Eisenberg resolution asks that the candidates agree "to refrain from the erection or display of illegal off-premise outdoor signs and to encourage the same restraint on the part of . . . supporters."
The board's action comes in the midst of a second court challenge of the county's political sign laws by Republican Charles G. Viars, who lost a race last November against Virginia Del. Warren G. Stambaugh, the Democratic incumbent who represents the 49th District.
Ara Tramblian, an assistant county attorney, said Viars and his campaign erected signs that violated county laws because they were larger than the 1.5 square feet allowed; were posted during weekdays when the signs are permitted only on weekends, and there were more than the maximum one sign per intersection.
Tramblian said the Viars campaign also posted signs illegally on utility poles, and did so after agreeing in federal court last October to stop violating the sign laws.
Because the political sign laws parallel laws allowing the posting of real estate signs, Tramblian said, the county "said we would permit political signs to the extent we permit commercial signs."
That county decision grew out of the federal court challenge Viars and his attorney, John Snider, mounted against the laws last year. They contended the county's policy was unconstitutional because it denied candidates free speech rights. Viars has said the signs were crucial for promoting his candidacy.
The federal court upheld the county's laws. But as Viars' signs continued to pop up larger than allowed and in places not permitted, the head of the county's Democratic Party, Charlene Bickford, filed a complaint against Viars.
He was convicted in Arlington General District Court in December of violating the sign laws, a misdemeanor, and given a $25 suspended fine. He has appealed the case to the county's Circuit Court, which has scheduled a Feb. 25 hearing.
"Clearly, it was a politically motivated move on the Democrats' part," Viars said this week. He said he does not believe the resolution requesting the candidates' pledges "is a good idea at all. By firsthand knowledge, I know the ordinance is not constitutional at all."
Tramblian counters that the law is constitutional and is evenly applied to commercial and political signs.
Bickford, the Arlington Democratic Committee chairperson, said she endorses the resolution, and argues that Viars was the "only candidate who's been so flagrant about just ignoring" the laws.
Helen Blackwell, head of the Arlington Republican Committee, said she has mixed opinions on the pledge. "I'm strongly interested in constitutional rights. I've got to believe you have a right to self-expression" through the posting of signs, she said. "But I'm also certainly in sympathy with wanting to keep Arlington neat and attractive."