Agenda Item: 6


CITY OF SANTA CLARITA
AGENDA REPORT

UNFINISHED BUSINESS

City Manager Approval:

__________________________

Item to be presented by:

Joe Montes


DATE:


February 26, 2013

SUBJECT:

SIGN ORDINANCE

DEPARTMENT:

City Attorney's Office

_____________________________________________________________________________

RECOMMENDED ACTION


City Council conduct a first reading and pass to a second reading "AN ORDINANCE OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF SANTA CLARITA, CALIFORNIA, AMENDING CHAPTER 11.12 OF THE SANTA CLARITA MUNICIPAL CODE PERTAINING TO SIGNS PLACED ON PUBLIC PROPERTY."

BACKGROUND

At the June 12, 2012 City Council meeting, the City Council directed staff to return to the City Council with a draft amendment to the City’s Municipal Code that would provide that any election signs removed from public property be stored by the City until after the election to which they relate occurs, at which time the owner could retrieve such sign without paying any fine. At that same meeting, the City Attorney advised that because regulations that distinguish between types of non-commercial messages are problematic, such an ordinance would have to relate to all signs relating to events, rather than just political signs related to elections.

In reviewing legal issues associated with adoption and implementation of such an ordinance, and in speaking with Community Preservation staff, it appears that such an ordinance would actually impede Community Preservation’s efforts to eliminate sign blight as it creates an enforcement issue for signs that do not relate to a specific event. It also has the potential to create confusion for those who place commercial signage on public property. Community Preservation has been very effective in reducing the incidents of illegal commercial signage being placed in the public right of way by taking a year-round zero tolerance approach. From the perspective of Community Preservation staff, an ordinance that allows removal of signs from public property and imposition of fines for any signs found on public property is critical to Community Preservation’s efforts to clean up illegal signage placed throughout the City.

At the same time, City Staff recognizes the City Council’s desire to accommodate an increase in signage during local elections to allow both candidates and voters access to additional venues for communication.

Courts have recognized a City’s ability to limit public access to certain publicly owned properties, as there are some public properties which are more suited to public debate and some which are more suited to governmental purposes. With respect to public streets, courts have recognized the difference between public assembly and discourse on those streets (which courts have protected) versus posting unattended messages on public streets (which cities can limit). The attached draft ordinance seeks to enhance First Amendment rights prior to local elections by allowing the posting of temporary freestanding noncommercial signage on City-owned property not otherwise available for such use by the public. At all other times, the Ordinance preserves the non-public nature of that City property.

The proposed ordinance would facilitate Community Preservation’s efforts to eliminate illegal signage by allowing Community Preservation staff to remove private signs placed in the public right of way while also allowing Community Preservation staff to cite the owner of such signs and impose fines in connection therewith, with a limited exception: during the 45 day period prior to any local election in which a City Councilperson is being elected, temporary freestanding noncommercial signs can be posted on public property, provided that the following criteria for such signs are met:

    • They are no larger than four square feet, or taller than thirty (30) inches, and

    • They are not placed within certain designated areas that would jeopardize public safety (medians, blocking traffic signs, etc.) and are not attached to public improvements (fences, trees, traffic signs, etc.), and

    • They are removed within one week (7 calendar days) after the date of the election.

This approach allows Community Preservation staff to continue their successful illegal sign elimination program for commercial signage year-round, and for non-commercial signage at most times, while meeting the needs of increased signage during the election season. This ordinance, if adopted, would be provided to all potential City Council candidates in the Election Handbook and the Election Handbook will be continually updated each election cycle with the exact dates that the signs may be placed on public property without penalty.

In terms of the distinction between commercial and non-commercial signage made in the ordinance, courts have recognized that such a distinction may be made—and the City’s current codes do make such a distinction with respect to temporary signage allowed on residential properties. Further, as indicated above, the issue is less one of restricting commercial First Amendment rights and more one of enhancing noncommercial signage rights by allowing limited access to property not otherwise accessible to the public.

Further, the distinction between commercial and non-commercial signage is warranted based upon the City’s aesthetic conerns. While aesthetic concerns would be partially compromised by the appearance of noncommercial signage prior to an election, the impact would be nowhere near the degree if commercial signage were allowed in that same period. Illegal commercial signage on public property is a chronic problem that requires significant code compliance staff resources. Consequently, providing any period during which commercial signage is allowed could result in a dramatic proliferation of signage.

ALTERNATIVE ACTIONS

  1. Direct the City Attorney to draft an ordinance that would allow placement of temporary commercial and noncommercial signs on public property during the 45 day period prior to a local election.

Other actions as determined by City Council.

FISCAL IMPACT

There is no fiscal impact as a result of this item.


ATTACHMENTS

Ordinance






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