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Businesses Have Time to Remove Non-conforming Signs

By Jorge Casuso

You won't be penalized if your nonconforming sign is still standing on April 11.

That was the message sent by the city to some 1,000 businesses whose protruding, freestanding and rooftop signs are in violation of a 15-year-old ordinance the city will begin enforcing next month.

The assurance allayed fears expressed by Chamber president Dan Ehrler, who asked the City Council Tuesday night to extend the deadline 30 days, contending that a longer-than expected review process had delayed a final decision on which signs had to go. The council declined to act on the request, noting that businesses would be given ample notice to conform to the law.

"Standard code enforcement is a slow process," said City Attorney Marsha Moutrie. "It's not a code emergency. We are not going to criminalize people who are going through the process. We're going to allow them to get into the process."

City officials said a "nice" letter would be sent out to business owners reminding them that their non-conforming signs must come down. Another letter will likely be sent before notices of violation will start going out.

"After the letter goes out, we're going to start the initiation of enforcement," Moutrie said. "But there is a time between the time we inform people and issue the notice of violation."

Businesses have had 15 years to replace their nonconforming signs, perhaps the longest grace period in the city's history.

In addition, the city has spared 114 non-conforming signs deemed worthy of being preserved for their artistic or historic merit. The meritorious signs, which must be at least 30 years old, were salvaged from an initial list of 1,124 nonconforming signs by the Meritorious Sign Review Board, which saved 93, and by the City Council, which spared an additional 14 signs.

Of the signs on the initial list, 152 non-conforming signs were along Lincoln Boulevard and 118 along Pico Boulevard. Of the total, 84 were located in residential areas. There are a total of 8,126 signs in the city.

While most of the Santa Monica's non-conforming signs will have to come down, approximately 275 will likely remain, at least for now, city officials have said. That's because a state law requires cities to pick up the cost of removing non-conforming signs if they fall outside a redevelopment district or residential area.

Because the City Council has not yet decided whether it will foot the bill, staff will not enforce the ordinance outside those two areas, which encompass less than a quarter of the city. (The area where the ordinance will not be immediately enforced is roughly south of Pico Boulevard, east of Cloverfield Boulevard and north of Montana.)

Businesses removing signs must provide a photo in order to be taken off the list. Those replacing or modifying signs must submit plans for approval by Architectural Review Board staff, before they can pull a permit to install the new sign.

Friday, March 31, is the last day to receive free ARB staff approval. After that date, businesses must pay $173.

A city planner is at the planning desk between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m., or by appointment, to answer any questions.

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