Youth Rugby Takes on City Code Enforcement

Mountain View youth sports leagues have a hard time promoting themselves in the city due to a citywide prohibition of signs and the Bobcats rugby club has learned the hard way.

Paul Lynch, co-founder and coach of the club, had a rude awakening on Tuesday, Nov. 29.

"The youth rugby club recently invested some of our meagre funds to launch a banner advertising campaign in our city," Lynch wrote in an email to Mountain View Patch. "Today someone has decided that they did not like our banner at Grant Road and El Camino Real; they cut the plastic ties holding the banner to the fence and removed the youth rugby banner."

Lynch described the missing banner from the fence alongside the as an "eye-catching photo of one of the kids." He expressed his disappointment at the loss of the $120 sign.

However, Lynch recovered the banner. Not from the because it turned out the banner hadn't been stolen. It had been confiscated by the city.

The Bobcats and several other youth sports leagues in Mountain View have seen their free opportunities to promote registrations dwindle in recent years and their enrollment numbers have dropped. So, they've taken to a "cat-and-mouse" game: they put up signs on prime city intersections or in parks with the hope enough people see them before the city takes them down.

"We are responsible to maintain a visually-friendly city," said Chris Costanzo, a code enforcement officer. "Since we can't regulate content, we just have an across the board prohibition on signs."

According to Costanzo, section A36.38.050 of the city's municipal code explicitly prohibits all sorts of signs including the Bobcat's banner, animated signs and even signs on benches or on fences and roofs. Costanzo added that he drives on El Camino Real everyday and when he notices signs that violate the code, he "take[s] them down."

To be sure, the Bobcats lacked a permit for a sign, but they wouldn't get a permit, according to Costanzo because their banner doesn't meet the city's exempt list. As first time violators however, they got their sign back and no $250 citation.

"We don't permit them anywhere," Costanzo said.

Opportunities to promote decrease

The youth sports organizations use to give fliers to the to be distributed weekly to parents. However, the board changed their policy in Fall 2010.

"Basically we were being overrun with fliers from these groups and were feeling overwhelmed trying to collate," said Kathi Lilga, executive assistant to the superintendent, who added that they now only distribute fliers to organizations that provide a direct service to the district. "Because they don't fall under those classification, we can't distribute."

Lilga explained that youth sports leagues can't put up banners on school grounds either, even on corkboards.

"We want to remove any form of appearance of endorsement," she said.

However, the youth sports leagues may have found a space—the fence at on Miramonte Avenue.

Even though Costanzo took down one rugby banner, another hangs securely in place next to banners for Mountain View Little League, Redstar Soccer, MVLA Girls Soccer and American Youth Soccer Organization at McKelvey.

According to Lynch when he retrieved the banner from Costanzo, he got the impression that those at McKelvey would be exempted. However Costanzo, told Patch that "they don't assume there are code violations on city facilities."

"The McKelvey Park ones might be allowed by Parks and Recreations," he said.

But that's not the case either.

"My division gives banner permits for sign that run across El Camino Real and Castro Street," said Regina Maurantonio, recreations manager. "I'm not aware of a policy regarding other places where banners can be held."

Maurantonio acknowledged that there might be "a practice going on that is different," but she also wanted to look at the big picture—that her department promotes youth activities.

"We are here to support the youth," she said and an inconsistency might show that, "we gotta take a step back and see if there is a win-win."

Alternatives and solutions

Lynch remains determined to find a place where youth sports, usually non-profit organizations, can promote their services.

He suggests the city create–and charge a fee–for places non-profits could put up banners without fear. He would like to encourage the school district to send out electronic fliers and again, charge the non-profit.

From his end, Costanzo–who must still enforce the code–recommends that the youth leagues organize and bring it up before city council. Costanzo said that he's tried to address the issue at a study session in the summer of 2010 but the council couldn't gauge community support.

"Everything gets looked at," he said.

Costanzo also shared that the kiosks on Castro Street could be used for fliers–"they are cleared off on the first and 15th of each month," he said–and recommended that fliers be put up on the 2nd and 16th. The table on the ground floor of would also be an option.

Mountain View Patch spoke to another sports league about their experience with city code enforcement, but could not get an on the record statement in time for publication.

But Lynch and the Bobcats, still shy of it's third season, will try and find ways to implement solutions on their own, if need be.

"If you find something that's not working correctly, you can say 'what the hell' and not do anything about it or you can fix it for those who come after you," Lynch said. "We do run the risk of being a pain on someone's backside."

MaryRuth December 08, 2011 at 10:27 PM
Our son loves playing youth rugby with the Bobcats - we love him having a great "run around outdoors" sport in the winter. Given all the concern about childhood obesity and all the resources the city invests in parks and rec, it's weird they don't partner with non-profit youth sports organizations and support them more. Closing the fields everytime it rains seems wacky given how soggy the grass is in city parks from the irrigation. And the whole "visually-friendly" argument about youth sports banners? Really?! Setting up designated park fences for banners would cost almost nothing and support our kids getting the excercise they need to thrive. Our city can do better. MaryRuth Bafrali
Claudia Cruz December 09, 2011 at 06:42 PM
Mary, I plan to write some follow-up articles about youth sports and hope to look at some of the issues to raise. Thanks for reading!
Jeanne Sanders December 10, 2011 at 05:42 AM
Can they be on private property..like banners and stake signs for people running for city council ????? if they can, I live on Miramonte Ave and would be willing to have a sign in my yard for a couple of weeks. .....God forbid kids might get away from their computers and get some excersize......jeanne.sanders@yahoo.com
Claudia Cruz December 13, 2011 at 01:54 AM
Hi Jeanne, from my conversation with Chris Costanzo it appeared that people can put whatever they want on their private property, so long as they receive a permit for temporary use (http://library.municode.com/HTML/16508/level3/PTIITHCO_CH36ZO_ARTXII-BSI.html#PTIITHCO_CH36ZO_ARTXII-BSI_SA36.38SI). It's a bit complicated because it might depend on your zone. Miramonte Avenue might be an R1 zone, which could bring with it less limitations. However, it's best to check with the city: 650-526-7713.
Tony December 17, 2011 at 06:15 PM
What would it take to get temporary/seasonal non-profit youth sports on the exempt signs list? In the mean time, would using an "American, California, or city flag" as a background qualify under the "Flag" exemption? These kids represent all 3.


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