Leon Worden




Signs point to trouble in November 1999

By Leon Worden
Wednesday, August 5, 1998

T
he Santa Clarita City Council passed an ordinance back in 1990 to get rid of the loud, obnoxious jungle of signs that line Soledad Canyon Road, Lyons Avenue, San Fernando Road and other parts of the city. The council was tired of the way "sign blight" was making Santa Clarita look like a northern appendage of the San Fernando Valley.

Other cities, such as Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley had passed tough sign restrictions, and now those cities are a pleasure to drive through and the merchants there are doing just fine, thank you very much.

Turn the page to 1998. Gee whiz. Soledad Canyon Road, Lyons Avenue and San Fernando Road look great, don't they? Umm, no. The signs are still there, littering the view of what might otherwise be a nice-looking city. I say "might be" because you can't tell through all the signs.

What happened? Well, the chamber of commerce convinced the council that forcing merchants and property owners to replace all their perfectly legal, county-approved signs with more aesthetically pleasing ones would cost them a lot of money — $2,000 or $3,000 on average — and infringe on their private property rights. If store owners had to take down their signs, the chamber said, they'd need a whole lot of lead time.

With visions of lawsuits dancing in their heads, the City Council said fine, we'll give them nine years to get with the program.

The clock runs out in November 1999. All sign owners in Santa Clarita (not just on the streets mentioned above) will have to comply with the ordinance unless they want city workers to rip their signs out for them — at the sign owners' expense.

Funny thing is, all the nine-year "amortization period" has done in most cases is give local merchants nine years to ignore the ordinance. Most people don't pay attention to things until they have to, and I'll bet that if you walk into any three stores in the city, two won't know they'll have to change their signs just over a year from now.

Either they'll claim they've never been told (even though the city has distributed brochures door-to-door recently in the most critical areas) or they'll think their signs are in compliance.

Odds are, they'll be wrong. The city estimates that 65 to 75 percent of all signs in Santa Clarita don't conform with the new rules.

Of the ones that do, many belong to new merchants who have opened their doors in the last eight years. Since 1990, all new signs have had to comply with the ordinance.

The 28-page ordinance regulates the height, square footage, location and to some extent the appearance of signs in the city. Rooftop signs are prohibited, signs can't be placed in or over a public right-of-way, monument signs can't exceed 6 feet in height, and ground-floor businesses facing a street can have no more than 1 1/2 square feet of wall signage for each linear foot of building frontage. For instance, a 12-foot-long storefront could have no more than a 9- by 2-foot sign.

Existing billboards can't be restricted because they are protected by state law. If the council were to permit any future ones, and that's unlikely, they would come under the ordinance.

In the last couple of months, the city has adopted a "replacement" set of sign regulations for the downtown Newhall core area as part of the redevelopment process. In some ways they're more restrictive than the "regular" ordinance; in other ways they're less restrictive. They also take effect in November 1999, although if you're a downtown Newhall merchant with a sign that was approved by the city after 1990 you'll have an extra three years to comply.

Valencia National Bank (soon to be Valencia Bank and Trust) is offering a special program to help ease the burden for affected store owners. The bank is offering variable rate loans at 1 percent below prime, and money market savings accounts at 5 percent interest, if the funds are used to replace nonconforming signs. (They also have a similar program for downtown Newhall merchants who wish to fix up their storefronts.) Call 254-9900 for information.

Call 255-4330 to discuss the sign ordinance with Conal McNamara at the city. He'll gladly work with you and let you know ahead of time if you're in for a big surprise come next November.

    Leon Worden is The Signal's special sections editor.

    ©1998 LEON WORDEN — ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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