Lights on Broadway cause concern

Claims that a bank's lights are too bright provided plenty of fodder during a joint Laguna Beach City Council and Planning Commission meeting Saturday at the Laguna Beach Community and Susi Q Senior Center.

The discussion focused on how to reduce light emissions from the new Chase Bank downtown. The council and Design Review Board also met to discuss the issue Saturday.

The bank, which recently opened at 310 Broadway St., received some backlash from residents and business owners who claim an outdoor sign and lights surrounding two ATMs emit too much glare.

Laguna's municipal code prohibits internally illuminated signs.

"In the last two months, there are a lot of places that are violating the sign ordinance, be it an 'Open' sign or what we call neon," Councilwoman Toni Iseman said. "It would be helpful if the [Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce] sent out a notice to local businesses before they spend the money that these things can't be done."

Commissioners approved a sign permit for the bank last summer, but said Saturday that they were caught off-guard when the business opened.

The city allows halo lighting or back-lit signs, which are at several places, including [Mission Hospital], but Community Development Director John Montgomery said one "can overpower the sign with halo brightness, and that is what happened at Chase Bank."

Chase's outside lights are not the only problem, Commission Chairman Robert Zur Schmiede said.

"A lot of the light is inside the bank," he said. "There are lit-up counters and side walls. On the outline I thought it was an illuminated plastic panel, but no, it's a halo, and it's bright."

Commissioner Linda Dietrich agreed.

"I don't think the ATMs are anything compared to the interior light," Dietrich said.

Chase management has been cooperative, Montgomery said.

"After we heard from some of our customers, we put our Chase signage on a dimmer," Suzanne Ryan, Chase's California spokeswoman, wrote in an email. "It is now at 50% of the previous illumination. Our parking lot lights are lower than the approved city levels, at 175 watts. That wattage is what federal regulations require for ATM lighting."

Montgomery said LED lights are becoming more popular and give off an intense white color. He suggested staff might have to more closely consider the kind of light that should be allowed in a particular neighborhood to minimize the effect.

The lighting discussion stretched into other examples, such as twinkle lights, which Commissioner Anne Johnson said are popping up throughout town.

"A lot of people say they add to the ambience of the city," Montgomery said. "Others say they are illegal signage. Realize we need to be consistent."

Code enforcement investigates complaints but does not actively drive around town looking for violators, City Manager John Pietig said.

"Some [businesses] are not appreciative … but we're trying to work with businesses," Pietig said.

Fast feedback would help, Iseman said.

Residents can upload pictures and documents through a portal on a city website called City Hall Connect.

The software, launched last fall, allows anyone to enter a request, comment, complaint or question, which is then automatically routed to the appropriate staff member for follow-up. 

Mayor Elizabeth Pearson suggested that the council and staff develop a list of priorities when it comes to dealing with signs.

"Signage is one of the things that has kept us unique," Pearson said.

To access the City Hall Connect icon, visit the city's website at http://www.lagunabeachcity.net.

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