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Planning group raises concerns over revisions to county sign ordinance


September 10, 2013
San Diego County has proposed revisions to the ordinance for non-commercial signs in the county road right-of-way, but the VC Community Planning Group identified several problematic aspects of the ordinance at their Sept. 9 meeting.

The county's revisions are aimed at providing a way for the public to place community signs in the right-of-way. This could include community identification signs, directional signs, or signs for unique community events, according to Murali Pasumarthi, manager for traffic engineering with the county.

However, the strict guidelines for placing a sign may render the ordinance too much of a hassle to make much difference.

Oliver Smith, chair of the Planning Group, raised several concerns about the ordinance based on meetings he has attended and correspondence with county officials. Perhaps the most significant issue is the cost.

"Putting up one of these signs may be excessively expensive," said Smith. Under the proposed revisions, each sign will require a county encroachment permit that costs at least $110. Additionally, there are strict requirements for the signage materials, and only county-approved contractors can install or take down the signs. With all the costs taken into account, even simple temporary signs may cost $1,000 or more, according to Smith.

"Just to put up a sign that says 'Happy Birthday' or some community event is going to get excessive," said Smith. There would also be additional maintenance costs involved with placing a sign.

Prior to these proposed changes, the rule has been that no sign of any sort can be placed in the county road right-of-way. The county has not always been strict about enforcing this, but the current rule is that all signs (commercial or non-commercial) have to be placed on private property.

Under these revisions, signage for community events such as Western Days could be placed in the right-of-way.

However, Smith also had concerns regarding the way commercial vs. non-commercial events are defined in the ordinance. Although events like the pumpkin patch at Bates Nut Farm are certainly community events, the county considers it a commercial operation and therefore Bates would not be permitted to place signs in the right-of-way.

One possibility under the new ordinance would be a banner sign over the roadway to welcome people to Valley Center. However, the ordinance only allows one banner per village and Smith finds it to be "an insufficient opportunity for villages with multiple entry/exit routes or those communities with more than one village — i.e. Valley Center's North and South Villages."

The Planning Group voted to send some of Smith's concerns back to the county, as well as any other concerns the members can come up with in the coming days. Unless significant changes are made to the ordinance, it may not open up that many opportunities anyway.

"If the county isn't going to get flexible with this for community groups, what you've got to do is get 6 inches on the other side of the right-of-way on private land, and then do whatever you want," said Mark Jackson, a Planning Group member.

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