CALABASAS : Dispute With City Is a Sign of Times

According to gas station owner John Barkhordar, big can be beautiful--especially when it comes to signs that bring in lots of business.

City officials are insisting that Barkhordar, who owns a Mobil station near the Parkway Calabasas exit of the Ventura Freeway, get rid of his 100-foot sign. They contend that it violates a local ordinance that limits the height of local signs to 60 feet.

Officials also think signs that are any taller than 60 feet spoil the local scenery.

But Barkhordar is fighting back.


“That sign will come down--in 150 years,” he vows.

Barkhordar says about 30% percent of his business comes from freeway travelers who see the sign and stop in for gas.

The Calabasas Planning Commission is scheduled to vote on the issue at its Sept. 8 meeting.

The city’s Planning Department staff has recommended letting Barkhordar keep his 100-foot sign for seven years to give him time to comply with the ordinance.


Los Angeles County approved an application by Exxon, Barkhordar’s previous supplier, for the 100-foot sign in 1972, according to Assistant City Planner Barbara Pilegard. Barkhordar, who has operated the station for 17 years, switched to Mobil about a year ago.

He argues that his 100-foot sign should be grandfathered because county planners approved it in 1972. Besides, Barkhordar said, the city gave him permission two years ago to keep all his signs.

Community Development Director Steve Harris sees the issue differently. Harris said the city sent Barkhordar a letter in November, 1992, saying he could “install temporary signage” that would be good for six months--as long he applied for a permanent sign permit within 30 days.

Instead, it took Barkhordar more than a year to apply for the permanent permit, Harris said.


Some commissioners want to ban the giant signs because they are just plain ugly, they say.

“In Calabasas, we are not just mile-after-mile of strip malls,” and don’t want to be, Planning Commissioner Dave Brown said.

“These (freeway off-ramps) are the entrances to our community,” he said. “And I would really like the businesses to start thinking more creatively” to find ways to draw customers from the freeway.

Agoura Hills outlawed pole signs nine years ago, arguing that they spoil the view, and gave merchants seven years to remove them. Voters in November backed the sign ban by a 3-1 ratio.


However, many business owners there have balked at removing the signs, arguing, like Barkhordar, that they bring in business.

Ten businesses--Chevron, Unocal, McDonald’s, Texaco, Burger King, Denny’s, Jack In The Box, Lumber City, Roadside Lumber and Fence Factory--filed separate lawsuits against the city in May, charging that the ban on the signs will hurt their profits.

In response, a community group in Agoura Hills led a boycott against the businesses. But some of the businesses declared the boycott a failure and vowed to continue their fight to keep the signs.

“This is becoming a very passionate issue,” Brown said.