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Appealing Signs

By Jorge Casuso

What do three car shops, two restaurants, a hair salon and City Hall have in common?

They're appealing signs Wednesday night that city staff is recommending the Council spare from a 15- year-old ordinance the city will begin enforcing next month. The seven signs are among 55 non-conforming signs seeking a last-ditch "meritorious" designation that would assure they remain part of Santa Monica's landscape.

Wednesday's special meeting is the last chance for businesses with protruding, roof-top or stand alone signs to join the 93 signs already spared by the Meritorious Sign Review Board. About 1,000 signs across the city will have to start coming down on April 11.

"It is essential that the City continue to preserve visual aesthetics and maintain the city's physical environment," the staff report said. "Removal of non-conforming signs is vital to this goal of reducing visual clutter...."

To be designated meritorious, a sign must be at least 30 years old and have either aesthetic or historical value.

In addition to the City Hall sign, the signs being recommended by staff for meritorious designation are those for Bay Area Muffler, Lares Restaurant, Jon Adams Hair Design, Santa Monica Radiator, Bair's Keystone Body Shop and The Galley.

Wednesday night's meeting should be a reprieve of the meritorious board's hearings, which saw business owners pleading that their signs be spared.

Several businesses have sent the council petitions signed by customers and neighbors. Some have submitted letters of support and one, the Ski Haus, even submitted pictures of the owner posing with celebrities and dignitaries, including Arnold Schwarzenegger and Prince Tupo of Tonga.

In the past, some business owners have made emotional cases for signs erected by ancestors who started the family business decades ago. Others cited business reasons, noting that surveys have shown that most customers are first lured to businesses by the signs.

Despite pleas from the business community to let the non-conforming signs come down as businesses close or change hands, city officials contend that the sign ordinance gave businesses 15 years to comply - perhaps the longest grace period in Santa Monica's 125-year history.

Opponents of the ordinance argue that its enforcement will erase much of the city's character.

The special council meeting will start at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the council chambers at City Hall, 1685 Main Street.

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