Firm Removes Sign, Seeks to Chop Trees as Second Goes to High Court

Times Staff Writer

After years of battling City Hall, a veteran Glendale business, acting under court order, finally has removed an illegal sign from its Brand Boulevard furniture store.

But the business, McMahan’s Furniture, now seeks to chop down four city-owned trees that block the signs--all legal--that remain on the building. And another Glendale businessman, in a separate action, said he has decided to take his own battle against the sign ordinance to the California Supreme Court.

Ron R. Braden, assistant city attorney, said this week that the city has dropped its criminal complaint against McMahan’s, filed after the City Council a year ago ordered the store to remove a protruding roof sign, which violated the city’s sign ordinance. Braden said the sign was taken down by owners three weeks ago under orders from Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joseph R. Kalin.


Ficus Trees

However, Kalin also ordered the city to hear McMahan’s request to remove four large ficus trees from in front of the store. The trees block signs from the view of pedestrians and motorists. Braden said the city will ask the court to reconsider its order. “In our opinion, the court doesn’t have the authority to mandate that the city hold such a hearing,” he said.

Douglas B. Kays, McMahan’s attorney, said that there is such a “jungle” of obstacles in front of the store at 335 S. Brand Blvd. that signs permitted by the city, which limits their diimensions according to building size and specifies that they be mounted flush with the building, cannot be seen. He said that, when the city renovated the street several years ago, it planted seven trees and installed four lamps, a bus stop, cement posts, a newspaper stand and bicycle racks in the 100 feet in front of the store.

Kays and owners of the store, which has been in Glendale for 50 years, do not object to the city’s stringent standards banning protruding signs. “We have always been willing to comply with the sign ordinance,” Kays said. “We could easily put up a sign that complies, but nobody could see it.”

Removal Denied

City officials said the trees eventually will form a canopy higher than storefront signs.

Requests to remove the trees have been denied by the Board of Zoning Adjustments and Zoning Administrator John McKenna. City regulations prohibit removal of any street tree unless it is found to be diseased or a danger to public safety.

In a separate action, businessman Bob New said he will challenge the constitutionality of the city’s sign ordinance in the state Supreme Court. New, who is fighting to retain oversized signs painted on the walls of his insurance and auto-leasing office at 736 N. Glendale Ave., maintains that the city’s laws violate the right to free speech.

New’s claims have been denied by the Los Angeles Superior Court and District Court of Appeal. His attorney, Robert M. Peterson, said action will be filed with the Supreme Court this month.

The city adopted its sign ordinance in 1973. But legal action by New forced the city to grant business owners 10 years in which to replace signs that do not conform.

The ordinance outlaws garishly lighted and oversized placards, including billboards and rooftop displays. Stringent rules also limit the type and size of signs permitted in the city, which achieves a more uniform appearance, city officials said. Many signs throughout the city were illegal, including some neon signs and movie marquees that were considered unique.

Since the grace period ended, the City Council has ordered strict enforcement. Almost all illegal signs have been removed, including several unusual neon signs that featured moving figures, and such memorable markers as the shocking pink Roxy Cinema sign.

However, the council granted a variance in 1984 to one furniture store--Seeley’s--permitting it to keep its bright neon rooftop sign, traditionally called the “red beacon of Glendale.”

Council members agreed that Seeley’s sign should be preserved because it has historical significance. However, a variance can be granted only if the city determines that compliance with an ordinance creates undue hardships, according to city regulations.

In Seeley’s case, council members cited as “hardship” the need for the sign to be large because it must compete with signs at nearby auto dealerships.