People walk by the California Cooperage spas and hot tubs sign on Main Street Friday afternoon. The City Council earlier this week directed its staff to consider building flexibility into regulations to allow temporary signs that market merchandise and services to the public. That is as along as they donÕt impede the public right of way. (photo by Brandon Wise)

CITY HALL — What a difference a sign makes.

For businesses on Main Street, it can be a substantial one for sales.

“There are so many businesses on the street trying to make it week by week, month by month, and these kind of signs help,” Gary Gordon, the executive director of the Main Street Business Improvement Association, said regarding temporary free-standing signs used by merchants.

These businesses could finally see some leeway when it comes to the local sign ordinance after the City Council earlier this week directed its staff to consider building flexibility into regulations to allow temporary signs that market merchandise and services to the public. That is as along as they don’t impede the public right of way.

The issue has long remained a contentious one for businesses who look at different methods to draw in customers, whether it’s placing sandwich boards outside of store fronts or displaying merchandise on sidewalks, but face the risk of violating an ordinance that was adopted for public safety and aesthetic purposes.

The suggestion to take another look at the sign ordinance came from Councilman Richard Bloom, who recently met with merchants from Main Street following a sign sweep this summer when reportedly a dozen businesses received notices from City Hall that they were in violation.

Bloom said he had also received similar concerns from the Montana Avenue and Pico Boulevard business districts about the decline in sales once the temporary signs were put away.

“Our current ordinance is very strict and doesn’t allow for virtually any flexibility,” Bloom said.

Jack Leonard, the building official with City Hall, said that there were sweeps conducted this summer on several major streets, including Wilshire Boulevard and Main. Now instead of conducting sweeps, code enforcement officers are assigned to specific areas of the city where they are on the lookout for any building violation.

The ordinance prohibits certain signs such as animated, balloon, emitting, free-standing and projecting signs. Signs are also not allowed on, across or above any street, alley or public property. Signs that are placed inside a structure or building and are either not visible through windows or building openings or are located a minimum of 5 feet from such windows are exempt.

Most temporary signs are not legal but some are waived on permits for special events.

“We’re aware of what some of the fears are in terms of sign clutter or eye pollution,” Gordon said. “We’re very aware there will be standards, there still will be limits, definitely not an anything goes situation and we’re not asking for an anything goes situation.”

Gordon said that businesses have also been cited for signs that were placed outdoors but on private property, including on doors and planters.

Recently cited businesses include The Bey’s Garden, which was found in violation for placing two small chalkboards on top of planters outside the storefront, and Fedora Primo on Pier Avenue, which put out a free-standing sign next to a planter.

Leonard said that signs, even if on private property, can be deemed illegal if they don’t meet the size and/or location requirements.

Frank Strauss, who has owned Fedora Primo for nine years, said the sign is technically on private property.

“It’s the only way people see me from Main Street,” he said.

The historic building in which Fedora Primo is located was recently renovated. As a result, the permanently affixed signs for many of the stores were removed, giving passers-by the impression that all had gone out of business, Strauss said.

When he started hearing rumors that Fedora Primo had gone out of business, Strauss began putting up more signs for which he was again cited.

Strauss said that one of the signs was placed next to a planter that sits up against the building.

“It’s not like people had to go out of their way,” he said.

Gordon said he sees changes to the ordinance to be particularly necessary now given the economic downturn and the toll it has taken on Main Street where business turnover has remained high the past several years.

“We want Main Street to continue to be an eclectic street made up of businesses that are run by creative people who do a lot of things with their stores to express themselves and their own creativity as well as what they believe they can do to best merchandise their product,” Gordon said. “We’re not looking for strict artistic standards, we’re looking for what size can it be, where can it be placed, where can’t it be placed.”

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