The city should take steps to enforce its own sign ordinance in the wake of how bad things look along the main traffic thoroughfares like Mitchell Road.
In February Councilman Ken Lane remarked that things are "starting to look pretty tacky" in different areas of the city with violations of the city sign ordinance. And if they don't look tacky to you, it's probably because things have become all too familiar. The next time you're out, make an effort to notice what some businesses are doing, like an outsider would check out your town on a first drive through.
Along Mitchell Road, numerous merchants are in violation of the Ceres sign ordinance. Perhaps business owners and managers are unaware that there are laws on the city books designed to keep commercial areas from taking on a carnival-like appearance, or bearing the slipshod effect of a flea market. It is also quite possible they are aware and are hoping that the city continues to ignore enforcement.
I intended to count the number of sign violations on Mitchell Road but stopped at 50. There's just way too many. The most flagrant violations are the tall windblown signs held up by spines of a metal pipe that resemble giant feathers. They flap and flutter in the wind to try to catch attention of those traveling in vehicles. There is a concentration of 10 at the Taylor Shopping Center alone. One car dealer has six, overpowering the visual senses.
The problem is that such signs are ILLEGAL and in a way can be interpreted as litter on a stick. Check out the sign ordinance. Windblown devices and signs whose movement is designed to attract attention, such as pennants, flags, inflatable signs or balloons, or reflective attachments to sign faces, are not permitted. A-frame signs that litter the landscape along Hatch or Mitchell or Central Avenue are also illegal.
The city's Sign Ordinance also forbids portable or A-frame signs, as well as signs that impede pedestrian traffic or vision, and signs in the public right of way. The lone exception here is real estate signs.
Violations currently abound of the city sign ordinance which states that prohibited signs include portable signs or freestanding signs not permanently affixed, anchored or secured to the ground or structure on the lot they occupy. There are signs staked in the ground such as the crude "mecanico general" sign posted by a shade tree businessman at the southwest corner of Service and Mitchell or the sign advertising backhoe service at Roeding and Mitchell. A floral shop has an A-frame sign a block wall north of Roeding Road. The California Teachers Association office has a large double-faced plywood sign thanking the voters for passing Proposition 30 which allowed for the pickpocketing of taxpayers to bolster salaries.
AM/PM, Del Taco and Chevron all tie up plastic banners advertising specials to poles. Did they get a permit for their temporary signs?
It's understandable that businesses want to attract customers. But it should not be at the community's visual expense. The purpose of the sign ordinance is to preserve aesthetics but also to keep businesses competing on a level playing field. Instead of cluttering the cityscape, perhaps they should think about advertising in other mediums, such as in the newspaper.
The condition of signs is especially unfortunate for Mitchell Road. Back in 1989, Planning Director Jake Raper guided the city through the establishment of the Mitchell Road Corridor Specific Plan, which essentially raised the bar for architecture and development standards along the road. City leaders wanted Mitchell Road's commercial district to have a handsome appearance. Since then, newer development was required to incorporate certain architectural features.
The buildings of last development on Mitchell Road -- the commercial center at the southeast corner of Mitchell and Service -- look great, however, tenants have given the center a "ghetto" look. A series of makeshift tarps form an awning behind the 7-Eleven/Chevron car wash facility. A cell phone repair shop, whose window has prominent visibility to Mitchell traffic, is literally covered with a gaudy graphic presentation that resembles a blow-up of a busy advertising slick. It, too, is illegal as window signs are allowed only if they do not exceed 25 percent or less of the window area. Of course the center also has its share of A frame signs and "feather" signs.
The Ceres Planning Commission is expected to mull a proposal in May which would allow A-frame signs as long as they meet an "aesthetic" standard. The matter came up at a 2003 joint meeting of the Ceres Planning Commission and the Ceres City Council but was never followed through. The community should weigh in on this one. It's debatable that an accumulation of A-frame signs could ever enhance the aesthetics of an area. Imagine a strip mall of 10 shops whereby all 10 may place A-frame signs in flower beds or mowing strips. How does that make Ceres look more upscale?
The city has a responsibility to enforce laws it passes, not cite on a complaint-driven basis. Likewise, merchants need to play fair and educate themselves by reviewing and adhering to the sign ordinance, which is online at www.ci.ceres.ca.us. (Click on Planning & Building Division on the left side, then on City Codes & Ordinances, go on to City Municipal Code, then to Title 18 (Zoning). And finally, click on Chapter 18.42 on Signing Standards. A list of Prohibited Signs is found in Section 18.42.140.)
Lastly, in May 2012 the City Council found a way to employ Jeremiah Pons five hours a day to act as the Business License Enforcement Officer. As he's capturing money for city coffers, perhaps he can be directed to issue warnings for sign violations.
How do you feel? Let Jeff know at firstname.lastname@example.org