Almost everyone agrees on the need to rewrite the city sign code. One reason is that the code predates the digital age, and doesn’t adequately address electronic and video signage in matters such as light intensity and image-changing frequency, among others. Another reason, and the one that has provided the major impetus for the rewriting effort, is that the code has proven susceptible to many legal challenges by sign companies. By latest count, there are more than 25 lawsuits pending against the city, and the courts have ruled for the sign companies in several major cases, making enforcement of such things as the ban on off-site signs and supergraphic signs extremely difficult.
The actual rewriting of the code is being done by the city planning department, with input and review by the city attorney’s office. The billboard moratorium adopted by the City Council Dec. 12 ostensibly provided breathing space for this process, but the moratorium finally approved was for only three months, and the planning department has set a tentative date of Jan. 22 for presentation of the new ordinance to the City Planning Commission (CPC).
Why the rush? At a November meeting of the council’s Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee, the city planner heading the effort estimated the time needed as 6-8 months. Councilman Jack Weiss, a PLUM committee member, vociferously objected to this timetable, and argued for getting a revision ready for the CPC in January. It’s surely no coincidence that Weiss is running for city attorney in the March, 2009, city election, and will inherit the various lawsuits challenging the current sign ordinance.
In arguing for a speeded-up process that will allow little public vetting in advance of hearings before the CPC, including consideration by neighborhood councils, Weiss asserted that people shouldn’t demand a “perfect” ordinance. One could argue that the imperfections of the current ordinance are what got the city in trouble in the first place, and that it might behoove the city to take the time to try to write a “perfect” ordinance. But a longer time-period obviously doesn’t jibe with political considerations.
Nevertheless, people should think about how the ordinance should address issues of visual blight, the takeover of the public space by corporate advertising, and the protection of neighborhoods from electronic billboards and other intrusive signage. They should then e-mail their concerns and suggestions as soon as possible to Alan Bell, the city planner heading the revision team. A copy should be also send to the deputy director of the planning department, Vincent Bertoni. Their e-mail addresses are as follows.
Alan Bell firstname.lastname@example.org
Vincent Bertoni email@example.com.
To get the ball rolling, we’re including an excellent letter in the comments section below from a person whose position of employment requires anonymity. Please consider posting a copy of any communications to the planning department as comments here.Dennis Hathaway