Supervisors support community sign ordinance

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved the introduction and first reading of an ordinance to allow community signs and banners in public right-of-way.

The supervisors’ 4-0 vote Jan. 8, with Greg Cox absent due to California Coastal Commission activity, sends the ordinance for a second reading and adoption scheduled for Jan. 29.

“I think this is a good move,” said Supervisor Bill Horn. “This is something we’ve been trying to do for a while.”

In March 2012, the Board of Supervisors approved updates to the county’s Zoning Ordinance which included provisions to allow for community identification signs over roads. The previous ordinance required such signs to be located on private property.

The March 2012 amendments also increased the height limit for community identification signs but did not increase the limit on the number of signs or eliminate the site plan requirement and associated community review, and any sign over public right-of-way requires approval from the county’s Department of Public Works to ensure that the location, height, and design does not adversely affect public health, safety, or general welfare.

The changes in the Zoning Ordinance did not include any corresponding change in Board of Supervisors policies. County policies and ordinances restrict signs in public right-of-way intended to identify communities, provide directional guidance to local points of interest, or designate the significance of historical artifacts or buildings. Some incorporated cities in San Diego County, as well as some other county governments, allow public right-of-way to be used for monument signs, banners, and other types of signs which help out-of-town guests find services and points of interest, and those signs can also enhance community character for residents. Several County of San Diego communities have sought to use county right-of-way for signage to identify and distinguish their communities to visitors and neighbors, establish a sense of community character, or provide information about points of interest or commercial districts.

In June 2012, the county supervisors directed the county’s chief administrative officer to develop proposed amendments to board policies and ordinances necessary to authorize the placement of monument, gateway, community identification, and directional signs in county-maintained right-of-way and to report back to the supervisors in 120 days.

County staff researched ordinances of other jurisdictions while ensuring that the revisions would not be at the expense of motorist, pedestrian, or bicyclist safety. The feasibility report indicated which ordinances and board policies would require amendments while noting the need to develop guidelines on size, location, and design along with the need for California Environmental Quality Act review due to cumulative visual impacts.

In October 2012, the Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to receive the feasibility report and to direct the chief administrative officer to initiate outreach with community planning and sponsor groups, civic groups, and external stakeholders to develop technical guidelines using the applicant-initiated process addressed in the feasibility report. County staff was also directed to return to the Board of Supervisors with a specific ordinance.

Staff from the Department of Public Works (DPW) and the Department of Planning and Development Services (PDS) worked together on the ordinance. Kenton Jones led the DPW effort and Heather Lingelser spearheaded the PDS activity.

All 26 community planning groups or sponsor groups indicated support for the ordinance, including 10 which provided verbal support without a formal vote and the Valley Center Community Planning Group which provided support while also expressing concern about excessive costs. (The applicant will be responsible for production, design, manufacture, procurement, installation, maintenance, repair, and removal functions.)

“To get 26 planning groups all supportive of something is no easy task,” said Supervisor Dianne Jacob.

“I can’t say I am happy, but I’m pretty sure I’m not unhappy,” said Fallbrook Community Planning group chair Jim Russell.

Russell explained that restrictions, if applied, will ensure that the signs and banners enhance community character rather than detract from community beauty. “I think it will allow the regulations to protect the community,” he said. “I’m not a big fan of regulations, but you’ve got to have something.”

On Nov. 15, the county’s Planning Commission voted 6-0, with John Riess absent, to recommend approval of the ordinance. Between the Planning Commission’s recommendation and the Board of Supervisors’ approval, county staff reduced the deposit for each site plan review from $10,000 to $8,000 while stipulating a $5,000 site plan deposit for simple applications and retaining the $125 application fee amount. The changes also limited directional wayfinding signs, horizontal street spanning banners, and vertical pole-mounted banners to village areas identified by the county’s general plan.

The changes will repeal Board of Supervisors Policy J-5, which prohibits community-oriented signs in public right-of-way, while utilizing the Zoning Ordinance and encroachment permit requirements to regulate signs. (Policy J-5 also requires traffic and public safety signs to be installed in compliance with all sections of state code and requires transit bench and transit shelter advertising signs to be in compliance with Policy J-31 and the appropriate Zoning Ordinance section. Policy J-5 also covers encroachment permits for temporary election campaign signs in public right-of-way.) The amendments which also include County Code changes cover definitions, procedures, and standards for review and permitting.

Vince Ross, the current vice chair and the 2013 chair of the Fallbrook Revitalization Council and the chair of the monthly Fallbrook Community Forum, worked with the county on the ordinance. “I think we’ll see some immediate benefits,” he said.

“I think it’s a positive step and I’m hoping for more flexibility,” Ross said. “It allows the use of public right-of-way for things that will benefit the community.”

A wayfinding plan for Fallbrook was developed in the past and may be incorporated into the new opportunity. “We’ll see if we can come up with a master plan,” Ross said.

Ross noted that a master plan would allow for a single approval rather than separate approvals. He noted that the Fallbrook Revitalization Committee will work with the Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce and with the Design Review Committee of the Fallbrook Community Planning Group on specific designs and locations.

Bonsall Sponsor Group chair Margarette Morgan noted that the area near Bonsall Elementary School is likely Bonsall’s only area currently suitable for community identification signs in county right-of-way. “Our community is a little unique because our main street happens to be a state highway,” she said. “We really can’t put any identification signs on the state highway or in the right-of-way.”

Morgan added that the future San Luis Rey River Park would be county right-of-way. “We may be able to put some sort of identity signs in there,” she said.

The ordinance allows public right-of-way to be used for four types of permanent community signs and two types of temporary community signs. The permanent sign types are community identification signs, community information signs, directional wayfinding signs, and neighborhood and business watch signs. The temporary sign types are horizontal street spanning banners and vertical pole-mounted banners.

Gateway community identification signs can either be on the ground or over a street depending on community character and design standards. Such signs would identify a community at the primary entrances into defined town centers, welcome travelers, and express a community’s sense of identity. The signs may be single-faced or double-faced with a limit of 32 square feet per face, and a sign may contain up to six interchangeable community event shingles limited to one foot high by four feet wide. No more than one shingle may be used for any event, and the event must be open to the public with an anticipated attendance of at least 200 people. The shingle can only specify the name, location, date, and time of the event. No advertising messages, including business or corporate names, are allowed.

Community information signs are non-commercial, civic-oriented decorative signs which are mounted on the ground and have changeable shingles which identify upcoming community events or enhance community character.

Directional wayfinding signs are a network of permanent directional and destination signs which are strategically placed in or near established village areas and guide visitors to local civic, cultural, visitor, and recreational destinations within a specified region. Under the ordinance no more than 50 directional wayfinding signs may be installed in any community planning area and no point of interest can be designated on more than four signs.

The signs must be within five miles of the destination and between 150 and 400 feet of the closest intersection where motorists must make a decision to turn or continue on the path to the point of interest. A directional wayfinding sign cannot direct motorists onto a road which is not part of the Mobility Element of the county’s general plan.

Points of interest eligible for directional wayfinding signs must be open to the general public. In addition to civic-oriented, cultural, educational, historic, or recreational places, directional wayfinding signs can be used for museum facilities open at least 100 days a year, winery or brewery districts containing multiple licensed wineries or breweries, or transportation facilities providing regular air or charter transportation to at least 1,000 passengers per year.

Neighborhood and business watch signs will be permanent pole-mounted signs in conjunction with a neighborhood watch or business watch program to deter potential criminals. The signs cannot exceed 18 inches in width or 24 inches in height and must be mounted at least 10 feet above the ground on poles approved by the DPW director.

The temporary horizontal street spanning banners will span the roadway from approved structural poles on each side of the road and will be designed with an aesthetic and festive look announcing or promoting a community event. The banner must include the name, date, and location of the event, and no more than one street spanning banner will be allowed in each village. Banners are limited to four feet in height and to the width of the traveled lanes, and illumination is prohibited. The lowest portion of the banner must be at least 19 feet above the highest portion of the travel right-of-way while supporting cords or other elements must be at least 10 feet above the ground.

Vertical pole-mounted banners will be located on county-owned light poles or other street poles within a village area and will announce or promote a community event or recognized holiday.

Generic community-oriented banners can be mounted on the poles when event-specific banners are not being used. The banners must be 30 inches wide by 72 inches tall on poles 20 feet or taller and must be 24 inches wide by 60 inches tall on poles less than 20 feet in height. The bottom edge shall be at least 10 feet above the highest point of the grade below, although if the banner extends into a vehicle travel area the lowest part of the banner must be at least 19 feet above that travel area. No more than 50 poles can be used for any one event, although the use of two side-by-side banners will create a total limit of 100 banners.

Temporary banners must be made from durable material capable of withstanding a 60 mph wind without tearing, breaking away, or collapsing. The banners cannot be installed more than 30 days prior to the event and must be removed within seven days after the event.

“I think this can help some of the non-profits,” Ross said.

Ground-mounted signs are limited to a height of 20 feet while street-mounted signs will be allowed 30 feet in height to ensure a 16 foot minimum distance above the road.

A site plan permit will be required for all signs and banners in public right-of-way other than neighborhood watch or business watch signs. The permits will be reviewed for consistency with applicable community design guidelines and the community plan and will also be reviewed by the appropriate design review board, community planning group, or community sponsor group. A site plan will be required for the initial approval of the location and design of the temporary sign poles and for the initial location and design of community information signs, although subsequent installation of temporary banners or slats will require only an encroachment permit and repair or replacement of signs will not require site plan review if the changes substantially conform to the initially-approved site plan.

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