Planners want to further study city’s sign laws |

Planners want to further study city’s sign laws

Susan Wood

Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune / The South Lake Tahoe Planning Commission will meet for a second time this month to consider changes to a sign ordinance for businesses.

Planning commissioners are in the midst of taking a long look at an ordinance to restrict temporary signs along South Lake Tahoe streets.

But solutions to the controversial issue may be in sight, as the second of two meetings is slated for 9 a.m., Aug. 23. The South Shore planning commission got a bit of an earful Thursday from business owners who rely heavily on the signs, especially if their business is located off Highway 50.

“I double my business with my sign,” Anthony Dana of Tony’s Cheesesteaks told a sympathetic commission. He wants to put his sign on Highway 50 near Stateline because his eatery is tucked behind other buildings on Friday Avenue. A police officer informed him of the violation, and he took down the $300 sandwich-board sign.

“I don’t know if we’d do the public justice if we concluded this today,” Commissioner Pat Frega said Thursday evening.

Hearing stories of spotty enforcement from a stretched-thin planning staff trying to conduct in-house duties, the council turned over enforcement to the police department in January. The men and women in blue have given the issue more enforcement and therefore more attention. But community service officers who are also squeezed by other responsibilities have found themselves never quite caught up, as some of the 160 violators put the signs up later.

Moreover, a local sign maker has noticed “ridiculous” aspects to an ordinance that even the city’s Parking Authority was once in violation of when a large banner was placed on the Heavenly Village parking garage.

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“There’s no such thing as perfection, but this needs to be tweaked,” said Mick Clarke of Signs of Tahoe.

By the same token, most concerned parties agree South Lake Tahoe shouldn’t end up looking like Tijuana, Commissioner Bob Hedley said, echoing a commonly heard theme.

And in a turn of events, Don Huggins of the Ski Run Business Improvement District told commissioners its 22 property owners seek some type of exemption to the sign ordinance because they want a more restrictive regulation.

“We want to be the Cadillac street,” he said.

Illustrating that big topics deserve big ideas, the planning staff covered the council chamber walls on Thursday evening with paper signs that highlight the problems with the ordinance outlawing banners, flags and sandwich boards.

Business owners want the code either repealed or revamped by the commission. From there, it’s expected to make a recommendation to the council. But it wouldn’t end there. The city panel may have to take an overhaul of the ordinance to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

Any major changes wouldn’t occur over the busy summer season anyway, city Community Development Director Teri Jamin pointed out Thursday.

The 11-year-old regulation was spawned by the TRPA and adopted by the city to reduce tacky, distasteful displays. But it’s turned into a survival issue for business owners trying to capture customers off Highway 50 – the main commercial thoroughfare in South Lake Tahoe.