With campaign season in full swing, the La Cañada Flintridge City Council voted this week to loosen an existing ordinance and allow election signs to be placed in public right-of-ways that abut developed residential lots.
The amendment, which limits the surface area of the signs to 9 feet and preserves the city's right to remove them if they pose a safety hazard, came after city staff told council members that it was difficult to enforce the existing law.
Residents are allowed to post signs within the perimeters of their privately owned parcels. But zoning law prohibited signage on city land (with a few exceptions), including parkways in single-family residential areas.
Enforcement, however, proved difficult, said city attorney Adrian Guerra.
"In the city's single-family residential zones there is a practical problem enforcing that prohibition and that is because the public right-of-way sometimes extends beyond the curb line into the parkway area. So, looking at the property, it is hard to determine where city property ends and private property begins," Guerra said.
The city did not actively enforce the ban on election signs in public parkways in residential neighborhoods largely because staff had not received any complaints, Guerra said. But during local elections in March 2009, questions were raised about the legality of the placement of signs, prompting a review of the ordinance.
City staff defined election signs as signs that speak to the campaigns of specific individuals or ballot measures being decided in an upcoming vote.
Councilman Steve Del Guercio said that if the city was going to review the sign ordinance to accommodate election signs in the public right-of-way, it needed to also reexamine the placement of other types of signs.
"It goes beyond the question of election signs; people utilize in our community that area to communicate," Del Guercio said. "They have [La Cañada Flintridge] Educational Foundation signs — those are not election signs. We have real estate signs…I doubt we are following the code when real estate signs get placed in this area."
He also recommended that the city establish a size limit for the election signs in order to safeguard from any safety hazards or aesthetic eye-sores.
"If we are going to go back and do this we ought to think it through so we don't have a situation where somebody puts an 8-feet by 10-feet sign right on the corner that blocks somebody's view," Del Guercio said.
Revisiting the entire ordinance would take months, said Mayor Don Voss, leaving the immediate problem unsolved until after the pending elections.
"If we went back and rewrote the entire ordinance we might not be able to place election signs on properties for that November election," Voss said. "My sense would be to push ahead in adding campaign signs to the existing ordinance but also go back and reevaluate the entire sign ordinance and address some of the issues that have been raised and then codified that at a later time."