Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers says he wants to stop the spread of digital signs at businesses in Clearview and other rural areas. (Noah Haglund / The Herald)

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers says he wants to stop the spread of digital signs at businesses in Clearview and other rural areas. (Noah Haglund / The Herald)

County exec issues rare veto to limit rural business signs

Dave Somers’ veto overturned the County Council’s decision to ease sign restrictions in Clearview.

EVERETT — Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers took the rare step of issuing a veto Friday, saying he wants to stop the spread of digital signs at businesses in Clearview and other rural areas.

Representatives from Somers’ office said the executive heard from dozens of people who were upset by regulations the County Council passed last week. The sign rules applied only to the business district in Clearview, an unincorporated stretch of Highway 9 between Cathcart and Maltby.

“I have taken this action because I believe it is necessary to preserve the rural integrity of Clearview and other rural areas of unincorporated Snohomish County,” Somers wrote in his veto letter. “… At a time of historic growth, we should protect rural areas of our county, and I believe that allowing this ordinance to go into effect would set a precedent for other rural parts of the county.”

The County Council passed the sign regulations Aug. 21 on a 3-2 vote.

Another concern raised at the hearing was the potential for more distracted driving crashes.

The legislation added the Clearview Rural Commercial Zone to a list of areas in unincorporated Snohomish County where digital signs are allowed. The business district covers 115 acres.

Under county code, these signs are limited to 35 feet high and a maximum 150 square feet of advertising space. They’re generally restricted to promoting the owner or occupant of the property where they’re located, or services provided there.

A few signs already operating in the area were considered grandfathered in.

County Council Chairman Terry Ryan said he and his colleagues would revisit the issue next week, but he was unsure what course of action they would take.

“It’s disappointing,” Ryan said of Somers’ veto. “The most important thing to me is we’re trying to help local businesses that are struggling. We want to give them the tools to be successful. The reason I voted for this is that there are already four lighted signs in Clearview. I didn’t think it was fair to tell other businesses that you can’t have a lighted sign, even though the business down the street does have a sign. That’s not right.”

Ryan said some of the opposition to new sign rules was based on “hysterical nonsense.”

“People out in the community are spreading misinformation, saying this will lead to Clearview becoming another Vegas,” Ryan said. “The county has no intention of allowing casinos or huge signs of that sort in Clearview.”

County Councilman Sam Low also supported changing the rules, but said he understood arguments on both sides. He said he went back and forth on how he would vote up to the day of the hearing.

“To me, Clearview is a bunch of mom-and-pop businesses that are trying to make a living,” Low said. “Many of them employ people in the Maltby and Clearview area. The ones (signs) that are there now don’t seem to be a big issue and nobody’s ever emailed me about the four or five that are there now.”

The rules, Low noted, would not allow any signs in residential areas — and doesn’t ease the restrictions for large digital billboards anywhere.

Clearview spans both Ryan’s and Low’s council districts.

To overturn Somers’ sign veto, the council would need the support of at least four of its five members.

At least one of the original no votes — Councilmembers Brian Sullivan or Stephanie Wright — would have to change their position.

Sullivan said he was swayed by safety concerns and other considerations.

“I have no intention of changing my vote,” he said.

Wright could not be reached for comment.

Executive vetoes are rare in county government.

During his nearly four years as executive, Somers has only used the tactic once before. In early 2018, he attempted to roll back hiring restrictions the County Council imposed as part of a budget-trimming strategy.

That dispute revolved around 88 jobs in county government that are classified as “management exempt.” Those positions make up a small slice of the approximately 1,500-person workforce supported by the county’s operating budget, but also tend to be among the most highly paid.

In that case, the council moved quickly to override Somers’ veto 5-0.

The council meets next at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@herald Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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