Sign halt ends
By Chris Daley
From page A1 | September 21, 2012 | Mountain Democrat

Putting up signs in El Dorado County once again is as easy or as hard as it used to be, depending upon one’s perspective. The sign moratorium enacted by the Board of Supervisors on Aug. 7 died  Tuesday for lack of a four-fifths vote.

Supervisors Norma Santiago, Ray Nutting and Board Chairman John Knight favored the extension.

As written it set limits on signs in general and not only pole or free-standing signs. The moratorium further included language requiring the county to develop a comprehensive new sign ordinance within its General Plan amendment process prior to future removal of the proposed moratorium.

Supervisors Jack Sweeney and Ron Briggs voted not to extend the moratorium for an additional two years, and that action reinstates the county’s former policy regarding signs. Under state law, an emergency or urgency moratorium of this nature takes effect for only 45 days and then either expires or is extended for a maximum of two years. Extension requires a four-fifths vote of the governing body. Failure to achieve that number creates an automatic reversion to what it was before the moratorium took effect.

Current sign policy is described in the sign ordinance section of El Dorado County’s General Plan. Any proposed sign that exceeds the standards set out in the ordinance must be granted a special use permit by the county’s director of Development Services or by the Board of Supervisors. That policy applies to a free-standing sign of more than 80 square feet in area if it is within a specific distance from a state highway, for example.

Supervisor Norma Santiago asked a question similar to that raised in an Aug.10  letter to the board from the California Sign Association.

“What and where is the emergency that requires a two-year moratorium on free-standing signs?”

Deputy county counsel Paula Frantz replied that a condition of “urgency” is different  than “emergency” in legal terms led to the moratorium. Frantz described some of the public comments regarding sign “proliferation” in the county that prompted the temporary moratorium.

Terms such as “a sea of signs” and  ”visual clutter” peppered the testimony of numerous residents over the past several months, particularly in the Cameron Park-Shingle Springs corridor of Highway 50, Frantz explained.

Dave Brazelton, president of Western Sign, spoke passionately about the potential economic effects of the broad-based regulations. Noting that most shopping centers and fast food shops have signs in excess of the proposed limit, “80 square feet is nothing,” he said.

“We have contractors who want and need to upgrade or remodel signs. You’re hurting many developers and our own economy. Just leave the billboard (elements in the moratorium), not all signs,” he suggested. “Most shopping centers have signs in excess of 200 square feet,” he added.

Ron Briggs described the rationale behind his vote to allow the moratorium to expire. He wrote in an email to the Mountain Democrat Wednesday that the board had already heard most if not all of the arguments for and against the sign moratorium between May and August.

“I do not think any of us felt a need to regurgitate the facts for a third time in six months. For me, I wanted to be convinced continuation of the moratorium was necessary and brought more good than harm. There wasn’t sufficient testimony to sway me,” he explained.

“The key act yesterday was to authorize funds for a contemporary ordinance, which will mesh with our new zoning ordinance, to be in place within the next 12 months or so. During this period I have confidence in county staff and believe the county possesses sufficient authority to manage and administer all signs within our existing ordinance.”

A second motion passed by a 4-1 vote. That action directed county staff to “process a request for proposals for the comprehensive sign ordinance update.”

Knight opposed that motion.

Following the two actions, Santiago asked Frantz for additional clarification, “Are we back to the current ordinance?”

Frantz replied: “By choosing not to extend the moratorium, you are offering special use permits for all sign applications. Yes, (we are back to the current ordinance).”