Question of Taste in Sherman Oaks : Sign Law Puts Wiener in a Pickle

Times Staff Writer

Kevin Lentz has served up the hot dog. But it has drawn a chili reaction from Los Angeles city officials.

At issue is the 19-foot wiener atop Lentz's hot-dog stand in Sherman Oaks.

Officials have ordered the huge rooftop wiener removed because it violates a new city sign ordinance.

Lentz is fighting back by arguing that the wiener is a tasteful landmark.

He is spicing up his claim by circulating a save-the-wiener petition at his stand, The Wiener Factory.

The mustard-stained appeal will be submitted at the end of the week to City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky.

"We haven't heard about the wiener sign. We'll have to play catch-up," Michelle Krotinger, an aide to Yaroslavsky, said Monday. "We relish the thought of helping, though."

City sign inspectors say they've already sunk their teeth into the wiener situation by referring it to an appeals board that has the power to grant variances for signs.

"I can't recall any business bringing in petitions before, however," said Richard Becker, secretary to the city's Building and Safety Commission.

The ordinance, enacted last May to control clutter, requires that advertising signs be made of steel or plastic for safety and aesthetic reasons.

"They say my wooden sign is liable to catch fire," Lentz said. "My building is 45 years old and built out of wood. If I put up a metal sign and there's a fire, the sign would be the only thing that survives."

He said the aging one-story building might not support a heavy metal sign without $10,000 worth of structural changes. "That's a lot of hot dogs to me."

The wooden wiener does have support from the 225-member Sherman Oaks Chamber of Commerce. "It's been there 16 years. It's somewhat of a landmark around here," chamber manager Patrice Bertholdo said.

Lentz said many Sherman Oaks-area homeowners who pressed for the sign law are among the 2,500 customers who have signed his petition.

That's not the only irony, either.

Three months ago, Lentz sued to force removal of a Wiener Factory-style wiener from atop a rival Woodland Hills hot-dog stand. The offending sign was replaced in December with one that reads "The Wienery." It's metal, so it can stay.

City officials said Lentz might get out of hot-dog hot water by proving that his sign is not an eyesore.

"Our office is not necessarily opposed to wooden signs if they are kept in good condition," said Brad Rosenheim, an aide to the city's most vocal sign critic, City Councilman Marvin Braude. "We feel they should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis."

With wieners, that means piece meal.

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