City officials stuck on sign law

City Council members this week failed to reach consensus on possible changes to a years-old rule designed to push out large free-standing business signs.

About 60 businesses throughout Glendale — from fast-food restaurants to hair salons — currently can't change what large pole signs advertising their business say unless they replace the structures with smaller ones, which could cost thousands of dollars.

Planning commissioners had recommended keeping the rules in place, contending the signs are out of whack and unsightly. But the City Council on Tuesday was split on how to approach the issue.

“I don’t know exactly what the compromise is,” said Mayor Laura Friedman. “I feel very torn about this.”

Under the current rules, if a new business moves in, it can't remove the prior tenant's sign face without also getting rid of the oversized pole, many of which have been in place for 25 years. Leaving a sign empty after moving also isn't allowed, but happens often.

Some businesses bypass the rule altogether, changing the sign face without permission.

City code enforcers have held off on issuing citations and penalty fees as the City Council weighs potential changes to the rule, said Community Development Director Hassan Haghani.

The signs — most of which are on West Glenoaks Boulevard, Honolulu Avenue, La Crescenta Avenue, North Pacific Avenue and Verdugo Boulevard — are too big, according to city code. Some reach as high as 25 feet with a surface area of 200 square feet, far larger than the heights of 6 to 8 feet allowed. The city also restricts surface areas to between 40 and 75 square feet.

Some council members said they were sympathetic to businesses reeling from a deep recession and didn’t want to burden them with the extra cost of replacing the pole when putting up a new sign.

“While we’re trying to encourage people to come to Glendale, we are oppressing the businesses that we have here,” said Councilman Rafi Manoukian.

Others said the businesses have had years to fix the issue, but continued to put it off.

“We’ve given them 25 years, maybe we can give them another 25,” Councilman Frank Quintero said sarcastically.

Council members discussed a possible amnesty program, a grace period and incentives, such as reduced permit fees, to replace the structures altogether. However, all were met with opposition.

“I don’t want the message to the community to be ‘You break the law long enough, eventually we’re going to forgive you,’” Friedman said, adding that relaxing the rules for the businesses that still have the large signs would be unfair to those that took them out long ago.

City officials plan to bring the matter back to the council in the coming weeks after they issue notification of the possible changes to the affected business owners.

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