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V.I.C.E., please take out the Fiesta magpie
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This giant magpie, which is a mainstay of the intersection of Hatch and Mitchell roads, actually constitutes an illegal sign. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Now that the city is recruiting volunteers to help enforce city codes, may I make a recommendation?
Ooh, ooh, pick me, pick me.

Okay, start with that sign holder dressed in a magpie suit holding a sign for Fiesta Auto Insurance at the northeast corner of Hatch and Mitchell.

That, pardon the pun, for the birds.

It just bugs me every time I see that waving scavenger. Whoever is donning the giant magpie suit probably doesn't have a clue that he's not only putting himself in jeopardy, standing on the sidewalk from the most heavily trafficked intersection in Ceres, but also violating the Ceres sign ordinance.

It seems that I see the "bird" standing there at all times, sometimes in the dark evening. I'm not sure how smart it is to be standing next to busy Mitchell Road in the dark wearing a black suit in a world of drivers who are distracted on their smartphones as they read Facebook posts, drifting into curbs and center divider reflectors and sometimes magpies.

You might urge me to stop being a bully and defend the bird as "cute" or an example of free enterprise. But he is just as illegal as that mini-skirt wearing mechanized cutie of a mannequin sign holder for Allied Cash Advance which the city cited into mothballs in 2012. "Stella," as she was called by Allied's manager, was a glaring example of city sign code. (The company might have consulted with the city sign ordinance which is posted on the city's website before spending $3,000 on her.)

Specifically, Section 18.42.140 of the Ceres Municipal Code lists all types of signs that are illegal. Both human and mannequin varieties of sign holders are in violation because they - take your pick - are in the public right-of-way, consist of moving or swinging or animated components, and are a portable or freestanding sign not permanently affixed, anchored or secured to the ground or structure on the lot they occupy.

I have never been a fan of sign flippers. It seems like exploitation of youth to me and constitutes a major distraction for drivers. Especially when the sign holders are wearing bikinis like they were last summer on Mitchell Road between Adrian and Nicholas Way. With that much skin showing, expect some male to lose control or at least cause traffic to slow to extreme hazards.

We never see anybody but young people flipping signs. It's not the most dignified job in the world as one stands as a public spectacle flipping signs like a monkey on speed. Half the time they are putting on a showy dance as they launch a sign overhead that one gust of wind could take and make like a Frisbee to remove some passing car's paint job - or behead the minimum-wage flipper. (I never quite understood how we are expected to read a sign when it's being flipped through the air like Ginsu knives). If they're not making us all dizzy with the sidewalk antics, they are just standing there with the sign tucked under their arm - you can't read what business name is on the sign - as they text their friends. Perhaps it's just a way to keep one's heads down as they aren't recognized). The dorky magpie, at any rate, has it made as nobody knows his identity.

What is the big deal with sign ordinance violations? Ask yourself this: If businesses could have unbridled displays of signs, how orderly would your city look? Do you think it would be prettier or more chaotic? That's what I thought you'd say.

The city has enacted sign rules to make a more even playing field as well as attempt to preserve neighborhood aesthetics. Besides, businesses have other ways they can advertise and I might add this newspaper is one option.
What irks me more than sign flipping is a city that passes such laws and doesn't seem eager to enforce them until somebody calls them out on it. They say they rely on a "complaint driven" enforcement process. Why doesn't city staff - and I mean from the city manager down to the sewer worker - initiate a little complaining on their own after they memorize the sign do's and don'ts? Or course, the V.I.C.E. volunteers can help out once they are out in force.

I hope one of the first duties that the Volunteers in Code Enforcement (VICE) will do is drive up and down the residential areas of Ceres, ripping down all the unsightly and illegal yard sale signs, and perhaps run a trail to the yard sale location and inquire if the resident has a yard sale permit. Far too many people are ignoring the fact that yard sale signs are permitted in only one place: At your sale. Far too many people leave them up to wilt in the moisture, serve as litter on a stick and ultimately blow off the pole and become trash on the ground. And far too many people are turning their neighborhood money-making venture into an unwelcome commercial traffic generator.

If a city cannot - or won't - enforce its laws on its own is it a law worth having?

For heaven's sake, take out the magpie. If anything, we'll be insuring that some poor sap won't be passing out or dying of heat exhaustion as he bakes in that black character suit this summer.

How do you feel? Let Jeff know at