The City of Visalia is updating its 36-year-old sign ordinance. The proposed changes include new restrictions on a variety of signage.
“The city council directed that the sign ordinance be updated,” said Josh McDonnell, AICP assistant director and city planner for the City of Visalia. “It has been a topic of discussion for two or three years. The sign ordinance hasn’t been updated since 1978, so the city council felt it was high time to look at regulations that reflect the city’s current vision.”
McDonnell was asked if the proposed changes would make it more difficult to do business in the city. “I think the business community will probably agree with that statement and a portion of the residents of the City of Visalia would disagree,” he said.
To get input from businesses, as well as residents, the Planning Department and Sign Ordinance Committee will hold meetings at City Hall East at 3pm on both December 4 (for downtown retail signage) and December 18 (temporary signage).
The Visalia Chamber of Commerce has been hosting its own meetings to make sure that businesses are aware of the proposed changes. The next meetings are set for December 9 at 7:30am at the chamber office, 220 N. Santa Fe; and December 17 at 4pm at the Buckman-Mitchell office, 500 N. Santa Fe.
“Most businesses don’t like ordinances because people want to run their business free from outside rules,” said Gail Zurek, Visalia Chamber CEO. “‘If I want to cover my windows with my product, it should be my right to do it,’ but most businesses understand there are standards we need to create.
“From my vantage point, I’m not sure that most businesses are aware that changes are being made,” she said. “There are new additions to the sign ordinance that affect businesses – electronic signage, mobile signage, temporary signs – and window signage is also included.”
Zurek said that a business on Main Street that currently has a giant iPod that enables potential homebuyers to search for a house would be in violation of the proposed ordinance changes.
“When the sign ordinance was created, no one considered electronic signs,” she said. “It wasn’t a viable option for most businesses. There’s a thought from those in planning that they want to avoid one-upsmanship and creating a Vegas mentality.”
Under the new ordinance, banners and anyone standing on the sidewalk to advertise a business, such as the six-foot crow often seen on Mooney Boulevard, would be illegal, according to Zurek. “And if you advertise an event, there will be a time period that those signs can be out.”
Wrapping your car with your business information would be legal, but hiring someone to wrap their car with your business information would be illegal. Another type of sign that will be restricted under the proposed ordinance is the “snipe sign,” one which is attached to a tree, post or fence.
“The window signs is the big one,” said Zurek. “That is the one people are concerned about. Seventy-five percent of the window should be transparent. This includes Christmas and holidays. Twenty percent is for window signs on a single window. Temporary signage includes a poster for a charity event.”
Indoor signs within two feet of the window are also included in the 20%. “If you start adding two feet from every window, there’s not a lot of space to display,” commented Zurek, who noted, “Originally, it was going to be 10%. We got them to bring it up to 20%.
Membership logos, including chamber logos, are exempt, as are credit card logos and flags.
A 45-day limit on how many days a year holiday decorations (the total for all holidays) can be on commercial – or private property – is also in the proposal, according to Zurek. “They’re looking at amending that,” she said. “At the last meeting, we were saying, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’”
Political signs aren’t facing restrictions, according to Zurek. “You can’t control political signs because that’s controlled by the Federal Election Committee,” she said. “The ordinance has to be in accordance with what’s written elsewhere.”
“Visalia is probably right in the middle with its sign ordinance,” said McDonnell. Some cities have no problem with the use of billboards. Other cities prohibit a lot of signage. Some are in between.”
The Planning Department and Sign Ordinance Committee is still gathering input and the proposal is being carefully studied. “The technical advisory committee is literally going through the ordinance page-by-page,” said McDonnell. “No stone is being left unturned.
“We hope to have a draft final resolution before the planning commission in January,” he said, adding that the commission will then take the resolution to the Visalia City Council for a vote. “It might take one (planning commission) meeting or it might take five.”
Meanwhile, meetings are still being held and arguments are still being put forth.
“In my opinion, advocating for businesses is far more effective early in the process,” said Zurek. “We will advocate at every level and every turn. Everyone wants to create a good ordinance and for us to do that we have to be engaged early – and we are.”