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Auto Mall Dealers Weigh Less Flashy Alternative to Electronic Sign Board : Thousand Oaks: Merchants’ soaring original proposal touched off a furor. But it may be too late for consensus.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Responding to a furor over their proposal to build an electronic message board three stories above the freeway, Thousand Oaks Auto Mall dealers will meet Wednesday morning to consider a low-key alternative design.

Although they have already poured a year’s work and nearly $100,000 into developing the message board concept, the 11 car dealers will look at other options, said attorney Chuck Cohen, who represents the Auto Mall on the sign issue.

But Cohen warned that achieving consensus on a new design would be tough--especially since the Auto Mall dealers’ association requires a unanimous vote to make any changes in the proposal.

“It’s almost easier to get three votes from the City Council than to get 11 votes from the Auto Mall dealers,” Cohen said. The dealers might be forced to stick with their original design “not out of stubbornness or disdain for public opinion” but because the unanimity requirement often creates gridlock, he said.

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The City Council has scheduled a public hearing Dec. 7 on the message board, which would sit atop two cream-colored stucco pillars rising 28 feet above Auto Mall Drive. A blue-and-rust-colored globe would perch atop the sign, serving as the Auto Mall’s trademark motif.

Under the globe, the message board would display advertisements and public service announcements, spelled out in flashing lights.

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While business leaders said they could not predict the council’s vote, a majority seem to be leaning against the sign.

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Councilwoman Judy Lazar has repeatedly criticized the message board as unacceptable to her constituents. And Mayor Elois Zeanah and Councilwoman Jaime Zukowski have consistently voted against signs that violate the city’s design guidelines, as the Auto Mall proposal would.

Attempting to negotiate a compromise, Lazar last week held a closed-door meeting with several Auto Mall dealers and about 10 residents who had called her to complain that the proposed sign was too flashy and too tall for Thousand Oaks.

One local architect suggested a drastic revision: a long, low, horizontal sign perpendicular to the freeway that would call attention to the Auto Mall through the creative use of flowing water, rather than a flashing message board. The sign would incorporate the globe motif in a more subtle manner.

Cohen will present the alternative concept--which he said had “a certain amount of validity"--to the Auto Mall dealers at their 8 a.m. meeting Wednesday.

The waterfall-and-globe idea could meet the dealers’ dual goals of attracting passing motorists and identifying the Auto Mall as a Thousand Oaks institution, he said. But again, Cohen predicted that the dealers may be unable to reach unanimous agreement on such a radical change, especially with the public hearing looming next week.

A revamped sign would probably have to return to city staff and the Planning Commission for evaluation before coming to the City Council. The waterfall concept could even force a new environmental impact report, leading to additional delays. In contrast, any minor changes in the message board proposal could be handled directly by the City Council at the Dec. 7 hearing.

“The ball is in the Auto Mall dealers’ court,” Lazar said. “They have a right to apply for any sign they want. But I would rather they came away with a win-win situation” by proposing a sign that the dealers, residents and the council could approve, she said.

Chamber of Commerce President Steven Rubenstein said he would welcome a delay of the public hearing so dealers could consider revisions.

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“Everyone agrees that the old sign needs to be replaced, but that’s about all they agree on,” he said. “There’s just too much animosity out there. We could all get together and work it out.”


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