Council to give sign ordinance another go | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Council to give sign ordinance another go

Adam Jensen
ajensen@tahoedailytribune.com

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – City councils change, but some issues never seem to go away.

The current incarnation of the South Lake Tahoe City Council intends to take a closer look at a perennial debate in the South Shore business community: How to regulate signs in the city.

During a work session Tuesday night, the council told staff to look at ways to improve the city’s sign ordinance, both in terms of what signs should be allowed and how to better enforce existing rules.

The sign ordinance in place today was developed 15 years ago but has struggled to change the appearance of the city.

A 2010 city survey found 74 percent of respondents rated the overall appearance of the city as fair or poor, far below other cities.

Reluctance by previous councils and a lack of planning staff has led to little enforcement of the sign ordinance and a feeling among the business community that the ordinance has “no teeth,” according to a city staff report.

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“What we hear most often is ‘If I put the money and effort into it are you going to make my neighbor put the time and money into it?,'” Hilary Hodges, the city’s Development Services Department director, told the council Tuesday.

Following a lengthy discussion, council members told staff to look at ways to better enforce the ordinance, encourage at least partial compliance with the existing rules and possibly increase the height allowance on some signs.

The council also directed Hodges to continue looking at staff suggestions to allow light backgrounds on some signs, allow exterior advertising on buses and taxis, allow changeable message signs in compliance with Tahoe Regional Planning Agency regulations and allow for sandwich boards on a limited basis.

City Councilwoman Angela Swanson said she’d like to see some way for signs being moved as part of improvements along U.S. Highway 50 to be brought into compliance with the sign ordinance.

Getting businesses to change outdated signs will ultimately come down to money, said South Shore resident Kenny Curtzwiler, who suggested the city develop a rebate program to encourage businesses to bring signs up to code.

“People will not improve their signs without money,” Curtzwiler said.

Signs of Tahoe owner Mick Clarke questioned how the city would ever be able to enforce requirements of a sign ordinance many business owners can’t afford. He said the low profile, “monument” signs favored by the sign ordinance can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000, an impossible expense for many business owners.

Federal funding is already being eyed as sources possible assistance to business owners regarding their signs, Hodges said.

The city should tap some of its about $1.4 million in unassigned reserves to assist business owners with their signs, said City Councilman Tom Davis.

Elbow grease, rather than the laborious process of rewriting ordinances, may also be the more effective solution to improving the appearance of the signs in the city, Clarke said.

“We don’t need reams of paper, we just need someone with a paint brush,” Clarke said.

The council will hold another meeting on the sign ordinance July 26.