VISTA — Drive around Vista and you’ll see a big contrast between the newer and older areas. In Shadowridge and the Business Park, the majority of the signs are orderly and flush to the wall. But head out onto South Santa Fe Avenue or up East Vista Way and suddenly the scenery becomes a chaos of signage: giant pole signs, rooftop signs, temporary outdoor signs and windows covered with flyers.
The city recently finished cataloging Vista’s nearly 1,200 signs as the first step toward tackling the problem of sign blight. More than half of the signs were found to be unpermitted or otherwise in violation of the city’s sign ordinances.
“That’s a trend that is just a result of lack of education and the difficulty of enforcing the sign code,” Community Development Director John Conley told City Council on Jan. 27. “A lot of folks just don’t know that they need a permit to put a sign up.”
Conley proposed several amendments to the sign code and invited the council’s comments.
In addition to clearing up the
convoluted language of the existing code, he recommended regulating sign materials and illumination.
Under the new code, pole signs would be prohibited except near the freeway. Portable, outdoor advertising signs have been illegal since 2007, but Conley proposed allowing A-frame placards in the downtown.
There was a lot of council support for a proposal to restrict hand-held signs — which are held and often twirled and flipped by “sign twirlers” — that tend to multiply around tax season.
“I think they’re very distracting,” Councilman Robert Campbell said. “Having this thing flashing around is very distracting and could cause accidents.”
Mayor Morris Vance supported the proposed code’s restriction of real estate signs. He worried that their profusion made the city look too unstable. Councilwoman Judy Ritter, herself a realtor, disagreed.
After the city staffers formalize the new sign ordinance, the hard part will be enforcing it. Conley proposed dedicating an entire employee to the task and the council agreed with the suggestion. It was not made clear where this extra worker would come from, however.
One issue left unresolved at the meeting was penalties. Several council members balked when Conley proposed a 60-day time limit from notice of violation for sign owners to meet with the city or tear down their sign.
“We’re asking a lot of people to make some major changes very quickly, and I think we’re asking a lot of small businesses much more than they’re prepared to do,” Councilman Steve Gronke said.
“With times the way they are right now, I just think that 60 days for a business to do it would be very difficult,” Councilman Frank Lopez said. He proposed a 120-day limit.
Despite an impending crackdown on signs, and more stringent regulation to boot, Vance said he felt comfortable with the decisions they had made.
“Sometimes it’s really hard to make a determination between those who have a feeling that they need signs to attract customers and those that look at signs as a visual pollution,” he said. “I think we’re trying to hit a happy medium in that whole process.”