Leon Worden

Don't let sign ordinance catch you off-guard

Leon Worden · August 20, 1997

Despite the unlikelihood that the City Council would ever actually do it, people have sure gotten excited about the prospect of changing all the addresses in town.

What's ironic is that the City Council has already taken a very real action that will have similar costly impacts on most businesses when it goes into effect -- and far fewer people seem to know about it. It is the City of Santa Clarita's sign ordinance, and all businesses will have to comply with it by the end of 1999.

The Council adopted the 28-page sign ordinance back on November 13, 1990 and, at the request of the chamber of commerce, gave local store owners nine years to meet its requirements. This so-called "amortization period" ends on November 13, 1999, at which time any business with a wall, window, monument or other sign that isn't up to snuff may be fined and see its signs removed.

Tough as that may sound, anyone who drives down Lyons Avenue or portions of Soledad Canyon Road knows that something must be done to eliminate the forest of signs that make our main streets look like an appendage of the San Fernando Valley. Sign restrictions have done wonders in nearby communities like Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley, and with a nine-year phase-in period, you can't exactly say our City Council acted hastily.

Of course, for many owners of non-conforming signs -- estimated at 65 to 75 percent of all signs in the city -- it will still come as a big surprise. Which is why the city is dusting off the regulation and talking about it now.

"We're a little over two years away (from implementation), and we think this is a good time to get going on compliance," says Conal McNamara, the city's point man on the ordinance. "Our signage task force has been meeting regularly since last October. It includes people from various disciplines, with strong representation from the business community."

So far the task force has heard from small business owners who say they cannot afford the $2,000 to $3,000 it will cost to replace their signs. Some shop owners whose signs predate the ordinance are understandably upset. On the other hand, builders of new shopping centers after 1990 have had to comply with the ordinance and haven't been allowed to erect signs as large or ostentatious as those of some of their established neighbors. Many new builders believe, just as understandably, that the eventual enforcement the ordinance will level the playing field.

Valencia National Bank is offering special programs to lessen the burden for long-standing store owners who find themselves suddenly on the wrong side of the city's sign law. The bank is offering variable-rate loans at one percent below the Wall Street Journal prime rate, and a money market savings account that earns five percent interest, if the funds are used to replace signs. Call 254-9900 for information.

In general, the ordinance regulates the height, square footage, location and to some extent the appearance of signs inside city limits. For instance, rooftop signs are prohibited, signs can't be placed in or over a public right-of-way, monument signs can't exceed six feet in height, and ground-floor businesses facing a street can have no more than 1 ½ square feet of wall signage for each linear foot of building frontage. In other words, a 12-foot-long shopfront could have no more than a 9-by-2-foot sign.

It's doubtful the city will permit any new billboards in the near future, but if it did, they would come under the sign ordinance. The city can't get rid of existing billboards because they are protected by state law.

On Thursday, September 4, the city will hold the first of what will probably be several community meetings on the sign ordinance. The fun begins at 6:30 p.m. in City Council chambers, 23920 Valencia Boulevard. Business people are encouraged to come loaded with questions and concerns.

In the interim, shop owners who fear that their signs won't make the cut might want to call McNamara at 255-4330 to schedule an appointment. "We can come out and look at the signs to see if they are in compliance," McNamara says. "More often than not we can work something out."

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Leon Worden is a Santa Clarita resident. His commentary appears on Wednesdays.

Click Here to read Santa Clarita's sign ordinance

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