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New sign rules approved

Mary A. Castillo

The City Council unanimously approved to amend the municipal code

that governs sign regulations, ending a process that began in 2001.

Among the key elements of the amendment that will go into effect


after Oct. 18 are the restrictions for internal neon signs and the

encouragement of businesses to create artistic and representation

signs. The city also agreed to a one-year trial run that will test an

administrative or “over-the-counter” approval process.


Internal neon signs must be placed 4 feet or more back from the

window and must not be any larger than 3 square feet.

Councilwoman Toni Iseman expressed reservations about allowing

these signs and asked if city staff would prohibit business owners

from magnifying the luminescence of their neon signs with the

strategic placement of mirrors.

“When you drive through Corona del Mar and get to Laguna Beach

you’re happy to get here because of the lack of bright lights,” she



The amended ordinance included a table of sign luminance standards

that limit the amount of light spillage onto the public right of way

or adjacent properties. Also, all signs can only be illuminated from

the top down.

Tom Ahern, who joined a chamber task force that included Len

Weinstein, Cindy Obrand and Kathleen Spalione, said he strove to

write an ordinance that would not only have teeth in its enforcement


but also streamline the approval process. The committee worked with

the Planning Commission to create a separate enforcement ordinance

that included the call to hire city officials who would enforce

municipal codes.

The approval process was one of the most pressing issues for the


“All signs would have to go through Design Review for approval,”

Ahern said. “Their dockets are clogged but as long as the sign is

within the parameters, they should be administratively approved by


During the year-long trial run, staff have at their disposal a

guidebook that outlines size, luminescence and provides examples of

acceptable business signs.

Ahern defended the amendment’s call for artistically or

representational signs.

“Signs must convey what [a retailer] sells and create an instant

recognition to the customer,” he said. “That is very important to us


At last week’s meeting, Mayor Wayne Baglin brought up the question

of enforcing parking signs illegally placed outside residences.

“It denies the free use of the right of way for the public and

should be prohibited,” he said.

Ken Frank replied that there are thousands of such signs in the

city. Staff will return a recommendation regarding “tenant only”

parking signs to the council at a future date.