Lewis Griswold

Sign of the times: Visalia ordinance tackles clutter

A temporary sign like this one on the railroad right of way at Demaree Street and Goshen Avenue in Visalia will not be allowed there under the city’s new sign ordinance.
A temporary sign like this one on the railroad right of way at Demaree Street and Goshen Avenue in Visalia will not be allowed there under the city’s new sign ordinance. lgriswold@fresnobee.com

On a 3-2 vote, the Visalia City Council last week approved a sign ordinance likely to cramp the style of community groups, political candidates and some businesses.

The new ordinance is one of the first to be adopted in the state following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last year in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, which held that municipalities must ignore the content of signs in regulating them and can only enact rules of placement and size, for instance.

The purpose of the ordinance is to preserve the city’s aesthetics and promote traffic safety. Sign clutter has been a thorn in the side of the city for years. Councilman Greg Collins and Councilwoman Amy Shuklian voted against the ordinance, arguing that it didn’t go far enough in eliminating sign blight.

The ordinance will go into effect in 30 days.

Standard commercial signs are largely unaffected by the new ordinance.

But there are some outright bans: Animated signs – air-powered fluttering stick figures, for instance – are banned, as are sign twirlers. (People wearing Statue of Liberty costumes and the like can stand on the sidewalk, just not hold a sign.)

Temporary signs – political signs, fundraising signs by nonprofit groups, real estate signs, banners, etc. – are greatly affected by the new ordinance.

Banners can’t be the business’s permanent sign. They are allowed as secondary signs, and if they deteriorate, they must be removed or replaced.

For business owner Evelyne Vivies, owner of Orange Valley Cafe on Main Street, the rules are a problem. Her main sign is a banner hanging on the front of the building that she rents a space in.

“I’m in the back. You can’t really see me,” she said. “For my business, I prefer if I can keep my banner.”

She just changed the name of her business and will be ordering a new sign.

“Maybe we can do a nicer sign,” she said. “I’d be happy to do that.”

City officials mainly anticipate complaints from community nonprofit groups that put A-frame signs on streetcorners to advertise their fundraising events, such as car shows and spaghetti dinners.

“The nonprofit signs were really a challenge” in developing the new rules, City Attorney Ken Richardson said.

Mayor Steve Nelsen said nonprofits can survive the new rules. If problems arise, the council is ready to look at amending the ordinance, he said.

“It hurts everybody a little bit,” Nelsen said. “I believe in a level playing field.”

Temporary signs can’t be placed on public sidewalks or railroad rights of way. There is a downtown exception for A-frames. They are allowed in front of a business, but only to advertise that particular business.

To reduce clutter on vacant lots, temporary signs such as subdivision signs and political campaign signs have more restrictions. The new rule: a total of 16 square feet of signs – one large sign or several smaller ones (including A-frames of the type nonprofits often use) – per parcel is the limit.

The 16-square-foot rule is the same for developed commercial lots, but any temporary signs must be for the business and can’t be an advertisement for a business or event taking place elsewhere.

Political signs are OK as free speech, but must follow the size rule.

Yard signs up to 24 square feet are allowed at residences.

Meanwhile, code enforcement officers will reach out to the business community to explain the new rules.

The city has a part-time sign ordinance code enforcement technician. Violators always get a courtesy notice the first time, said Tracy Robertshaw, neighborhood preservation manager.

“Most people just don’t know the rules,” she said.

After that, there’s an administrative citation procedure with a $100 fine for the first offense.

PLAINVIEW: Plainview has a new park, its first.

Plainview is a low-income community of about 1,400 people west of Strathmore.

The park includes a jungle gym with a tarp, a tot lot and a half-court basketball court.

The Urban Tree Foundation in Visalia did the design and construction management.

The $320,000 project was funded by state Community Housing and Urban Development park funds and Tulare County money.

Self-Help Enterprises wrote the initial grant proposal and the Plainview Mutual Water Co. contributed the land. Other key players included Tulare County Supervisor Allen Ishida, the county and El Quinto Sol de America.

CITY ATTORNEY: Visalia has a new city attorney, Ken Richardson of the Peltzer Richardson law firm.

It’s not a huge change. Richardson already was the assistant city attorney.

Alex Peltzer served as city attorney for 10 years and will take the title of assistant city attorney.

KAWEAH OAKS: Kaweah Oaks Preserve east of Visalia will be closed to visitors July 4.

The reason: fire danger.

A fire in June destroyed several trees on one of the trails and conditions remain dry.

The preserve will reopen the next day.

Lewis Griswold covers the news of the South Valley for The Fresno Bee: 559-441-6104, lgriswold@fresnobee.com, @fb_LewGriswold

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