El Dorado County has instituted an “urgency ordinance” that imposed a 45-day moratorium on the acceptance of new applications for “any freestanding signs that exceed 80 square feet in size and/or exceed 15 feet in height.”
The moratorium took effect immediately upon the unanimous vote of Board of Supervisors at Tuesday’s regular meeting and generally followed the recommendations of county counsel and the county’s Development Services Department. Under “urgency ordinance” guidelines, the county can declare that a situation exists that threatens the safety and general welfare of the public. In the case of billboards and other signs, the public welfare is compromised if it is determined that a sign blocks or otherwise negatively affects the “viewshed” or impacts a “scenic corridor.”
Viewsheds, scenic and historical routes are protected by the county’s General Plan adopted in 2004, while the current “sign ordinance” was enacted back in 1980. That ordinance (Section 17.16 of the County Code) “allows applicants to apply for a special use permit for any freestanding signs with a sign face greater than 80 square feet. The current (1980) ordinance does not specify architectural style, location, height, or size limitations.”
Rules governing signs are found in subchapters of the county’s Zoning Ordinance, which has been slated for comprehensive updating since 2010. However, public concerns “over the proliferation of freestanding signs” that may impact viewsheds in commercial areas or along public highways has brought the issue to the fore, according to county documents.
Staff reductions in the Development Services Department’s long-range planning division over the past several years have precluded substantive work on a sign ordinance, the board’s documents note. Until now, development services staff has urged that sign issues be addressed in the larger zoning ordinance update rather than dealing with it separately.
As part of Tuesday’s action, however, within the “urgency” designation, the board also approved a request for proposals targeting specialized firms that could develop the sign ordinance update rather than waiting for the zoning ordinance process to be completed.
The sign moratorium is in effect from date of execution for the next 45 days. At the end of that period, three options inform the county’s next move. If no further action is taken, the moratorium simply expires. On the other hand, the board can amend the ordinance at that time or add an extension. Under law, an extension may run for up to one year, 10 months and 15 days. Thus, the entire process may not exceed two years.
Supervisors added the proviso that the moratorium not affect any completed applications for special use permits currently in the system. Development Services Director Roger Trout told the board that no more than a half-dozen such applications exist.
Paula Frantz, deputy county counsel, assured and reassured supervisors that the proposed moratorium would restrict new applications for freestanding, oversized signs or billboards, particularly along Highways 49 and 50, but would not affect most businesses. Typically business signs are either attached to the building or do not exceed the 15-foot height limit as allowed in the current sign ordinance and the moratorium, Frantz explained.
Opponents of the moratorium argued from several different perspectives. Art Marinaccio of Shingle Springs said he favored some kind of moratorium, but urged that it be part of a “wider discussion” that could include anything that might impact the viewshed. Further, he asked that there be “absolute clarity” regarding on-site as opposed to off-site signs.
Dennis Schneider, of Western Sign told the board, “Obviously we don’t want a moratorium” and recommended the board “take a deep breath and step back because the urgency ordinance could last two years.” Schneider then introduced Jeff Aran, legal counsel for the California Sign Association.
Aran took issue with the proposed moratorium, advising that the county had failed to clearly define and declare an actual emergency with respect to the urgency ordinance and also failed to clearly distinguish on-site from off-site signs.
“It will be a de facto change in the sign ordinance without due process,” Aran challenged.
Frantz interjected that the county “is well aware of the emergency code (section 65858) and the Board of Supervisors has the authority to determine (the required) urgency.”
She added that the proposed moratorium “does not limit on-site signs by right.” That is the right for a property owner to erect a business sign. Earlier, Frantz had made clear to the board that the moratorium would only address size and location of signs so as “not to run afoul of First Amendment rights.”
Ken Greenwood of Pollock Pines advocated (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) for a “chainsaw ordinance” to remove billboards erected without proper permits or “put up overnight.” Greenwood has complained to the board on numerous occasions about a billboard on Highway 50 near Riverton that he says was literally “put up overnight” several years ago.
Contact Chris Daley at 530-344-5063 or email@example.com. Follow @CDaleyMtDemo.