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Sounding Off: This kind of ‘help’ not needed

The city finally comes to the aid of local businesses:

Some months ago, everyone was concerned about the ill health of local businesses. Stores were closing and storefronts were left un-rented. The City Council members went on record with their concern and their interest in finding things that the city could do to help local businesses.

The two things I remember coming out of these pronouncements of concern were: the closing of a downtown street one night a month for the purpose of having a street party or the like; and the one “business-person" on the council’s pronouncement that what was needed was to make it easier for “chains" to be able to open businesses in Laguna Beach.

We waited with bated breath for the results of our City Council member’s attempts to come up with ways the city could help local businesses.

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The other shoe has dropped: My sister Naomi Cantonwine, who has owned and operated the same business at the same location on South Coast Highway for more than 20 years, received a notice of municipal code violation administrative citation for violation of the city sign regulations as amended a few years ago. As near as we can tell, anywhere up to 500 similar citations went out to other businesses in town. We are beyond words in gratitude for the help to her business during this time of struggle.

In a simpler time, when Naomi came to City Hall to tell them she was taking over her storefront at Anita Street and South Coast Highway, the people she dealt with were beyond joy that this particular store front would become active again. Evidently, the previous occupant operated a custom drape business and for years had papered up windows and opened only by appointment.

What ever the approval process was at that time, it was easily met and there was delight at the design three windows on Anita and two on the highway, each saying “Beads." Indeed, the store has become a local landmark known more for the signs “Beads Beads Beads Beads Beads" than for the actual name of the shop. We were told that a local artist exhibited a painting of “Beads Beads Beads Beads Beads" at the art festival this summer.

It is certainly true that almost every day someone comes into the shop saying “I was driving by and saw the signs Beads, beads, beads, beads ... and had to stop and come in."

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The signs are not only the most important advertising for my sister; but, in more than 20 years, the only advertising that works for her. Beading is a very small demographic and although there are two bead shops in Laguna Beach, that is an anomaly, there are only about a half a dozen bead shops in all of Orange County. Nevertheless, over 22 years, Naomi has put together a collection of beads that brings her customers from Los Angeles to San Diego, from the coast to Palm Springs and Las Vegas.

But as customers come and go, it is those customers who find her by passing by and seeing those signs that are her very life blood. Some of the very customers we see over the years came in the first time because of these signs. In these very trying times for all businesses, those new customers coming in each day because of these signs may be the difference between hanging in through the recovery and disappearing. At the very least, the enforcement of these changes in her 20-year-old signs means spending thousands of dollars at a time when every dollar counts.

Thanks for the help, city of Laguna Beach. Thanks for the help, Council members Jane Egly, Kelly Boyd, Toni Iseman, Elizabeth Pearson and Verna Rollinger. We wait with dreaded fear to see what helpful ideas you will come up with next.

And to what end is this being done? At a time when the city’s tax revenues are down (wasn’t that the lead articles in the local papers just weeks ago?) "” and there is a budget shortfall for this year, with a projected larger shortfall for next year "” the city is going to spend hundreds, if not thousands, of staff hours investigating, reviewing and enforcing these regulations to change signs that have been in existence for seven to 30 or 40 years. Not to mention the cost of litigation if any of the Administrative Review Hearings’ findings are appealed to court.

This makes the mind boggle, when comparing this to the activities of the council members trying to make the variances needed to insure that new developers of old business sites could duplicate as closely as possible the old businesses. I remember when the new owners and developers of the Pottery Place were asking for variances (including parking), the comments of the then-council members about how they appreciated that an old landmark would be preserved. One member waxed poetic about how she remembered shopping there as a child and didn’t want to see it go away.

One wonders, if the original Pottery Shack were still there and still run by the original owners, if they wouldn’t be getting a citation because their 40-year-old signs were in violation of a 7-year-old regulation. How many variances were given to the developers of the old “Jolly Roger" building, to insure that it will look exactly the same as it always did? If it were still there, would it be receiving citations? What does “grandfathered" mean? What is the value to the community that businesses and buildings that have been here for years be allowed to remain to look the same as they have for all these years?

We are not talking about safety issues or parking issues or setbacks or blocking views, we are talking about pre-existing signs.

This is a solution without a problem. Every business that has opened or has changed their signs since mid-2002 had to conform to the new regulations. When older business close or seek to change their signs, they or the owners of the new business will have to conform to the regulations. Laguna Beach will remain the same and change naturally over the years.

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M. GUY ROSS lives in Laguna Beach.


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