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Panel likes limited use of A-frame signs
Richland Center cited as way not to display signs
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An ad hoc committee will recommend that the Ceres City Council allows businesses to put up A-frame signs like these but not along right of ways like here at the Richland Shopping Center. The group feels closer to a store front is best. They also want to limit such signs to the hours of operation of the business. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Currently it's against the law in Ceres for a business to set up an A-frame sign. That law may change if the city acts on a recommendation of a special committee that examined retooling the city sign ordinance.

The panel met last week and suggested that businesses should be able to put up an A-frame sign in front of their business but not along the public right of way.

A number of businesses have put up A-frame signs against the city ordinance and little enforcement efforts by the city. Police officers recently staged an attempt to contact violators on Mitchell Road and in one day issued 29 warnings. A total of 26 businesses complied and three refused to comply with the law. However, the plug was pulled on the enforcement effort pending possible changes to the ordinance.

The special committee - consisting of Planning Commissioners Hugo Molina and Laurie Smith and community members Shane Parson, Don Cool and Josie Castiglione - met twice. In the first meeting members suggested they don't want to see sign standards relaxed to allow feather banners, sign flippers of mannequin holding signs.

Cool and Smith appeared resistant to allowing A-frames but agreed that a compromise would be to allow businesses to set them up in front of their business during business hours as long as they are no bigger than 2-foot by 3-foot in size and are not on a sidewalk nor near any street.

The committee expressed concern about the saturation of A-frame signs at shopping centers. Cool said the Richland Shopping Center had seven along Whitmore Avenue and suggested that the marque sign at the entrance should be adequate. To demonstrate how cluttered the center would appear, he had the city set up 20 caution signs in a row along Whitmore to represent the possible number of A-frames that would be allowed if each business there set one up.

"It's hideous," said Cool. "If we say okay, that's what we're opening the door to."

Cool rejected the idea that a ban on A-frame signs makes the city anti-business.

"I don't believe that an A-frame signs makes you business friendly or not business friendly," said Cool. "If they're so hung up on that we have to fight for our town then they're not very neighborly."

Cool did say that he had no problem with signs on the store's property as long as if it's away from the street right of way. The rest of the group felt the same way.

The committee has no problem with the existing ordinance that allows businesses to place streamers, banners and special signage for grand openings, special sales or closing sales. The limit is 90 days per calendar year. Large blow-up devices may be set up no more than 15 days in a calendar year.

Parson suggested the city could charge a monthly fee to permit an A-frame sign but Smith suggested that it would be "initiate another enforcement nightmare" when the city "already has some enforcement challenges."

"We have permitted and non-permitted temporary signs that become permanent signs and then are in that gray area of where they fit," said Smith. "To me the most important is consistent enforcement of the existing sign ordinance and I'm wondering how that would look alone if we just simply ... enforce the existing ordinance."

Smith added that the city should be committed to making the community "clean, acceptable and clutter free and that will have an impact on whether people shop here." She said as a shopper she is more concerned about the cleanliness of a center and less interested in what an A-frame signs says.

The panel also recommends that the city re-examine why car dealers have the most relaxed sign standards in Ceres but stopped short of taking that duty upon itself.

"They (car lots) have certain uses that are allowed in the sign code that some of the other businesses in town don't get under any circumstance," said Community Development Director Tom Westbrook. They are allowed to have pole banners, blow-up devices, car toppers, window stickers, display racks, tenants or banners or awning signs. He said most lots "look pretty clean."

Westbrook said the code was crafted in the 1990s and surmised that car dealers had a lot to say about the crafting of the document. Parson theorized that the city extended a generous allowance of permitted signs for lots because cars generated more tax revenue for the city.

The recommendations will be taken up at an upcoming joint Study Session of the Ceres Planning Commission and the Ceres City Council.

Parson said he is concerned about "the crap on poles" and hopes that the new Volunteers in Code Enforcement (V.I.C.E.) takes aim at those signs.

Code enforcement officer Frank Alvarez said anyone who places a yard sale sign or any other sign on a pole is guilty of a misdemeanor. Unless an officer sees the posting the sign, the violator can't be cited. But the city can follow the sign to the sale to check on whether the resident has a permit and cite them with a $100 fine.