Members of community organizations had an opportunity to discuss the County of San Diego’s new policy for signs and banners in the public right-of-way in unincorporated communities at a special meeting on March 27 at Fallbrook Public Utility District.
Eileen Delaney, chair of the Fallbrook Design Review Committee within the Fallbrook Community Planning Group, organized the meeting in an effort to share as much information about the change as possible with stakeholders from various community groups.
Chris Champine, senior policy advisor to Supervisor Bill Horn and Murali Pasumarthi, manager of traffic engineering for the Dept. of Public Works, were present for the meeting.
Delaney explained that the new policy allows for way-finding signs, community identification signs, community information (event) signs, as well as street-spanning banners and vertical light pole banners to be placed in public right-of-way areas.
“This program will help non-profit and civic organizations legally advertise their events around town,” said Delaney. “It will also serve to welcome visitors and tourists and help them find services, locate points of interest, and provide directions to events and other centers of commerce.”
Delaney said that one of the purposes of the meeting was to determine if the cost for applying for signs and banners was financially possible for the non-profit organizations in the Fallbrook community. To ascertain the answer, she asked representatives of several non-profit organizations to each research the guidelines for one type of sign allowed in the program and propose the locations for these types of signs or banners.
The major costs involved in obtaining permits for these signs and banners include a site plan review, which is required to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
Applicants will also be required to obtain general liability insurance naming the County as the insured, and also encroachment permits.
When hanging a sign or banner on a public works area, there is also a traffic control permit needed. It was said that there is no cost for this permit.
Sign and banner designs and materials will be required to comply with the regulations in the manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). This is a document issued by the United States Department of Transportation which specifies the standards in which road surface markings, signals and traffic signs are designed, installed and used; such as shapes, colors and fonts.
Some of the signage regulations in the new program include not being located within 500 feet of an intersection.
Roy Moosa of the Fallbrook Planning Group noted that an intersection is a very important place to display information. Some signs that have existed for many years, which were never permitted, may not be in compliance with this regulation. Delaney said that under the new program these would not be “grandfathered in.”
Lila MacDonald, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, emphasized her concern about the negative impact on non-profits, due to the likelihood of high costs and the amount of time required for the process.
Delaney said the Design Review Committee would like to find a way to reduce the application fees for the new program.
A suggestion was made to see if the County could come up with some type of minor site plan review that still includes an environmental review, or to allow some type of a waiver of the site plan. County staff agreed to work on a more simplified site plan application.
Vince Ross of the Fallbrook Community Forum suggested developing a master plan which would contain a comprehensive list of all the specific signs and banners that the community chooses, then presenting it to the Dept. of Public Works as one package.
Another suggestion was to have one representative from a Fallbrook non-profit organization handle the application process, as opposed to different individuals from various organizations.
Voicing his concern, Roy Moosa said, “The overwhelming cost and time that will be required for signs and banners representing non-profit organizations is too complicated.”
“We should consider putting signs on private property,” said Moosa. “It would seem to cut difficulties in half, rather than to put the signs in the public right of way.”
Concern was voiced over how many signs would be allowed on private property and who would be in charge of that approval process. Delaney agreed. She suggested that perhaps the Fallbrook Community Plan could be updated with revised zoning in certain areas to allow a similar program for off-premise signs for non-profit organizations on private property.
Don McDougal, owner of the Grand Tradition, asked why Fallbrook has to go through a complex process when nearby communities such as Vista and Escondido do not. Pasumarthi said the Board of Supervisors was presented with two options for funding the program: taxpayer-funded or applicant-funded. The option that was chosen was to have the program paid for by community applicants and the County would continue to supply the standard green and white signage.
Finding funds to pay for signs and banners is a major issue. Discussion ensued whether or not Community Enhancement Grants could be obtained from the county for the purpose or not.
Delaney and Ann Wade of the Friends of the Fallbrook Community Center spoke briefly about proposing a non-profit organization to take on the program.
Delaney cautioned that if the community decided to do that, it would take a certain amount of funds away from other organizations that might have a greater need for the grants.
Wade also proposed that the communities of Bonsall and Fallbrook team up in approaching the county.
The Chamber of Commerce agreed to be the applicant for a “test case,” by submitting forms for the numerous, vertical banners on the street lights. This is designed to have the County determine the cost and time required for the site plan review which will be required for all sign and banner submittals under the program.
Pasumarthi explained that Dept. of Public Works will review the proposed sign and banner locations for concurrence at no charge. He also remarked that out of 26 unincorporated communities, Fallbrook was the first to start working on the new program.
Champine reminded community members that “this is still the beginnings of the program,” hence why his department cannot give cost estimates until the first test case is presented. Champine said he wanted to emphasize that the county “wants to work cooperatively with the community” and mentioned the possibility of applying a deposit to the application, and then organizations being allowed to fundraise to pay the remainder of the balance.
Delaney said the Design Review Committee has tentatively planned to hold another special meeting, on April 24 at 10 a.m. at Fallbrook Public Utility District, for the purpose of working on a master plan for signage.