In the Pipeline: City should have tread lighter regarding sign

Johnny Kresimir excuses himself during our conversation to recharge his cell phone for the third time that day.

He's never had to worry about that too much before but, given the national news attention, it now rings all day and night.

As many of you have heard, the sign on top of Johnny's Saloon on Beach Boulevard that reads, "Thank a veteran for your freedom," is being threatened after city code enforcement informed Kresimir that the sign is illegal.

Not because of its message, but because of where it sits — on the roof.

The thing is, nobody told Kresimir 10 years ago when he opened his business that it was illegal. The support that holds the sign has been up there for about 30 years.

All he wanted to do was honor this country's military (in honor of his dad, an immigrant who always honored veterans) and for years the sign has resonated in this town. After all, Huntington Beach has always shown great respect for the military.

But when word got out that the city seemed to be blindsiding Kresimir with a law of which he was never made aware, the TV trucks showed up.

Nobody is disputing what the law says. But a lot of people are upset with the way it is being enforced.

Clearly, there are better ways to handle this.

Rather than just slapping a notice on the door and giving the place 48 hours to remove the sign or pay a stiff penalty, city officials should have been meeting with Kresimir and trying to figure out — over 90 days — a sensible solution.

They obviously didn't know about Johnny's Saloon's social media clout. This is a solid local business that wasted no time in letting the world know what it was up against.

The result? The world supports Johnny's Saloon.

Kresimir has heard from hundreds of veterans; the messages roll in steadily each day.

Kresimir also explained to me that in fighting this, he is also setting an example for other small businesses.

It's hard enough trying to keep a small business running these days. The last thing anybody needs is code enforcement all of a sudden running around and finding something that had not been considered a problem before.

Had somebody been doing the job properly 10 years ago when Kresimir opened his bar, this would never have become an issue.

Right now the bottom line is this: Kresimir says either put the sign in a better place or let it stay right where it is.

The city is now working with him to figure out a positive solution.

Here is part of a statement I received from City Hall: "The purpose of code enforcement efforts is not to penalize an establishment, but to ensure the safety of persons and structures. In that regard, the city must enforce its laws consistently and fairly, regardless of sign content.

"In this case, however, we understand the outpouring of support and have committed to working with the owner to make sure their tremendous dedication to our Veterans can remain visible to the community."

As I was finishing this column, this email arrived from Kresimir:

"Chris, you asked what the response has been like. Two veterans just came into the saloon and said they flew in from Washington just to see the sign and support us. I told our head of security, who is a veteran himself, to tell them all their drinks are on the house, and one teared up."

As I have written here before, I am a big fan of historic signs. I rescued one of the old "Welcome to Huntington Beach" signs, and it sits in my backyard today, along with the building sign from Alice's in the Park and several others.

I've written columns about tracking down the Meadowlark Airport signs.

And so I truly hope that the Johnny's sign, with its simple and eloquent message, is allowed to live here in Huntington Beach.

And, Johnny, if for some reason they force that thing down and you need someone to take care of it, I'm right here. But something tells me that if that sign goes anyplace at all, it won't be moving too far from where it rests right now.

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 19 books, including the new "Baseball in Orange County," from Arcadia Publishing. You can chat with him on Twitter @chrisepting or follow his column at

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