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City Cracks Down on Sign Violators

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

February 23 -- Violators of the City’s sign ordinance seem to have gotten the message: In Santa Monica, City Hall is serious about code compliance, even at a high price.

To the tune of nearly $40,000 in salary, paper work and an extensive educational outreach, eight code compliance officers scoured select sections of Santa Monica for three days since July of last year.

Attuned mostly to oversized sidewalk signs and unauthorized merchandise, the enforcers swept up 75 offenders in their first walkthrough, according to information item to Council members. After a follow-up by the City, every violator came into compliance voluntarily, rather than pay the $250 fine.

“We were really out there to educate people and help them come into compliance,” said Tim McCormick who heads the Building and Safety Division for the City. “People don’t know the laws. How can they?”

While McCormick said it is really up to the community and City Council to say if the 342 hours invested in the sweeps at $118.06 per hour were worth it, he added that there is definitely a community benefit, and not just in aesthetics.

“We were making sure people weren’t pushed out in the street and avoiding cars in order to walk around signs, which can be dangerous and a serious obstacle to some people,” said McCormick, adding the same is true of illegal outdoor merchandise that blocks sidewalks.

A fourth sweep is now scheduled for the 2000 to 3200 blocks of Lincoln Boulevard in late March, with mailers warning business owners set to go out in the next two weeks.

The key to the continued 100 percent compliance is education, said McCormick.

“We really concentrated on letting people know we were coming and then followed up after to help them comply,” he said.

More than 400 letters were sent to business owners prior to each sweep informing them that the city was going to be conducting a walkthrough looking for violations. Then, letters were sent to the 75 violators with pictures of the violation in question attached, asking them to comply.

The letters are a far cry from those sent out two years ago to violators of the City’s former hedge and fence ordinance by Building and Safety officials (see story).

Those letters -- which essentially promised stiff fines of $7,500 if residents did not cut their hedges -- spurred City council member Bobby Shriver to run for office in 2004.

The tone of the signage letters shows just how far City officials have come since the hedge revolt, McCormick said.

“The difference is night and day,” he said. “The City Council was very clear that we needed more and better educational outreach, and that’s exactly what we did. Most of it is just ignorance of the laws.”

McCormick says his department will soon be coming back to the council with how to better prioritize limited resources to enforce code violations such as those for fence, noise and signs. And while he said it’s not an exact science, one thing is for sure.

“We’re going to need to be more proactive,” he said.

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