Consistency would calm sign controversy | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Consistency would calm sign controversy

Mick Clarke

Is it a sin to put up a sign? Well, it really all depends … if it helps pay the rent, perhaps not.I read with interest the article concerning the city bringing in the police to enforce the ban on outdoor banners in a recent issue of the Tahoe Daily Tribune. It’s a decision that is obviously going to be unpopular with many business owners. Why? Because banners increase business. It’s a proven fact. The International Sign Council has a wealth of statistics to prove it. The problem has been that business owners tend to leave banners up year round until they are falling apart and flapping around in the wind, and, yes indeed, we are all agreed on one fundamental point. A banner looks tacky, when it’s used in this incorrect way, and can spoil the image of the town. A banner should be used as a temporary sign, and, when used correctly, can encourage a healthy business climate, add a cheerful look, and let the buying public know that there is something different happening, a sale, a special promotion, or whatever. A banner should never be left up all year round. Not only does it lose it’s intended effect for the retailer, this has in fact caused the problem we are seeing now.

With local business owners being hammered by the stormy weather that kept tourists out of town during major holidays this winter, redevelopment at one end of town, blight at the other, “selective enforcement” on the lips of those that have been told to remove their banners, as well as having the B.I.D. program forced upon many who voted against it, not to mention the general state of the California economy, it’s not surprising that a lot of business owners are feeling unhappy.

It’s not easy to be in business in South Lake Tahoe in the first place, and there is a lot more negative energy flowing right now.

To totally remove an effective sales tool is not in the interests of the local businesses that benefit from it.

Banners work. The chamber of commerce uses banners. The casinos use banners. Why? Because they work. Yes, we know that the chamber banners advertise community events and such; it’s obvious, we see the banners every day, and that’s the point, but if your business benefits from the occasional use of a banner, you know what it can do for your bottom line, especially in the shoulder season … it can make the difference between bankruptcy and solvency. Those who disagree are usually in nonretail businesses that do not ever have a need for a banner to advertise a sale or special promotion.

City employees paychecks are not impacted directly, immediately, week by week, by a lousy business climate, nor are the paychecks of those at the TRPA. Sadly, they often have no real concept, no understanding, of what it’s like “on the outside.” It’s not their fault. We in business often don’t understand what it must be like to have a reliable, regular source of income, irrespective of the business climate, but have to face the gloomy day-to-day reality of a bureaucratic environment. That’s not our fault either, but we, “on the outside” can get really hurt when business slows down. During the hard times, retailers understand that a little help from a special promotion can help pay the rent. It’s basic common sense, and good for business.

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In a perfect world, none of us would need to worry about the business climate, and the paychecks would just roll in. Reality in South Lake Tahoe is quite different, if you are in business, have a family to feed, have employees who also have families to feed, and on and on. We have to deliver, no matter what. Let’s have a little understanding on both sides, please.

Now, the city has decided it can enforce the outright ban on banners that has been in place for a couple of years. Why was the ban on banners passed by the City Council in the first place? Because the old rule, which allowed banner displays on a temporary basis, was deemed “unenforceable” to quote the now mostly retired city planners who helped get the ban passed. Obviously, things have somehow changed dramatically.

Now, the police department is involved in enforcing this rule.

I have a more pleasant alternative. Let’s see if the City Council can get to work on doing something positive for local businesses. It’s simple. It’s called compromise. It’s called understanding each other, as well as our needs and our common goals.

If the city is now perfectly willing and able to enforce an outright ban on all banners, why then, I ask, are they not able to enforce the original rule? This allowed local businesses to display banners on a temporary basis. What is wrong with going back to the original idea, with a little update? If a business wishes to display a banner, they apply to the city planning office for a permit for which they pay a fee (which will bring in much needed revenue to the city) to help cover the costs of enforcement. The city planning office sends a copy of the permit to the enforcement officer, and when the permit expires he drives by the location and does a simple check. If he’s already patrolling looking for all those illegal banners, why can’t he drive by and check compliance for those businesses who use banners with a permit? Isn’t he going to be driving by anyway? It’s common sense.

We all know very well that some businesses will continue to post banners in the face of the ban. They’ll go up on weekends, down on Mondays, etc. This is the reality, and it’s not going to just go away. Face it. Many feel they have no choice, given the current state of affairs in the city, and if they wish to keep food on the table for their families. I think most business owners are responsible, able to police themselves without interference, and would comply with this revision of the rule. For those that don’t, then there is that enforcement officer, driving by. It’ll give him even more job security.

A warning, then a fine would apply to those that ignore the rule, just as it does now.

Let’s not allow the few who would ignore such a rule spoil it for the rest of us who would comply. I really think it’s possible to have a compromise, and with a little more understanding, make everybody happy.

– Mick Clarke has lived at South Shore for 28 years. He is the owner of Signs of Tahoe.

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