City cracks down on ‘tacky’ business signs |

City cracks down on ‘tacky’ business signs

Susan Wood

Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Ski Run Liquor owner Robert Cristando removes a lotto banner from the front of his store Wednesday.

It must be a sign of the times when South Lake Tahoe’s banners and sandwich-board displays start coming down in great numbers because of a new sheriff in town of sorts.

The police department is cracking down on violators who display temporary signs, after taking over enforcement of the almost 10-year-old ordinance in January from the city’s planning unit. The maneuver is part of a city restructuring plan approved by the council in August. Officials believe the temporary signs look tacky.

The idea then was to get more businesses to comply. So far, the notion appears to have worked.

Typically, an officer shows up at the merchant’s door with a letter saying that under the city code the sign has been identified as a nuisance and must be removed. Out of 61 notices given, Community Service Officer Bob Albertazzi estimated compliance at 80 percent.

It worked for Harry Segal, who co-owns Sierra Shirts located on Highway 50 near Stateline. Segal recently took down the huge banner he put up in protest of the ordinance.

“I’m encouraging other businesses to do the same (take signs down), but I want the police department to be fair,” he said.

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Fairness and equity has always been the sticking point with the issue, as businesses find few reasons to take down their signs when plenty of others still have theirs up. Even the city hung a banner on its parking garage. It has since been removed.

The city adopted the ordinance from the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s basinwide mandate, and the South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce came out with a brochure as part of an educational campaign. The sign code restricts the use of ribbons, streamers, flags, balloons, spinners or other “fluttering devices” – including California lottery signs.

Ski Run Liquor owner Robert Cristando took his Lotto sign down Wednesday, after receiving a letter asking him to appear for a hearing with the zoning administrator May 4.

“I can understand (business) people wanting banners. They’re struggling,” he said.

Yellow Submarine owner Steve Lannen said Wednesday he intends to take his sign down in the next week, but he also wants to attend the same May hearing to get a thorough review of the ordinance.

“My sign means a lot to me,” Lannen said, adding he was taken by surprise when an officer showed up at his door recently.

Violators are told by authorities that even if their signs are removed, they’re required to attend the hearing. From there, they’re told that if signs reappear, they’ll be charged to remove them with the right to appeal the case. They’re also subject to a $65 reinspection fee. If they fail to pay the bills, the city may take action to place a lien on the property.

Many shops in South Lake Tahoe use signs – which are characteristically banners – to promote their business.

Anthony Dana of Tony’s Cheesesteaks just opened his eatery three months ago on Friday Avenue and tried to advertise by placing a sandwich-board sign on Lake Tahoe Boulevard – an off-premise sign which is another violation beyond it being temporary. The sign netted a $300 increase in business in two days, he said at a hearing Wednesday. He showed up with 15 Polaroid pictures of other sign violators.

“I feel selectively enforced,” he told city Zoning Administrator Lisa O’Daly.

“It’s difficult to say that selective enforcement is given with 61 notices,” O’Daly countered.

To that, Dana inquired about changing the code.

She recommended he contact the City Council. His matter was postponed to the May 4 hearing.