NEWS-LEDGER — FEB 8, 2012 –
By Steve Marschke
There was a time when West Capitol Avenue was a glitzy and fairly prosperous thoroughfare, decorated with jet-set era neon lights that were designed to entice travelers to spend the night or pull over for a bite or a drink.
Then, after a freeway came in nearby in the ‘50s, the through-traffic on West Capitol slowed to a trickle. After the ‘50s, there were quicker ways to get from San Francisco to, say, Sacramento or Lake Tahoe. So a lot of the motels, restaurants and other attractions on the strip began to show their age – and so did their billboards, pole signs and “whirlybird” signs.
As part of a drive to clean up the strip, the West Sacramento city council in the late ‘90s adopted a new sign ordinance, giving businesses downtown 20 years to phase out their old, too-tall or too-big signs and replace them with something more modest. All of them have – except one, city code enforcement officer Larry Brooks told the News-Ledger last August.
“All the other businesses agreed to take down their pole signs and put up monument signs to comply,” said Brooks. “U-Haul (at 1750 West Capitol) has just always maintained it just could not come into compliance like all other businesses.”
Brook’s office cited U-Haul for failing to comply last year. The Arizona-based company appealed to a city hearing board, and lost. Now, U-Haul has filed a “writ of mandate” in Yolo County Superior Court, asking the court to tell West Sacramento to leave the sign alone.
Jeff Aran, a Sacramento sign law attorney, said he has represented the company on a number of other cases – and he is confident the company’s pole sign will still be up when the legal dust settles on the West Sacramento sign case.
“There’s a state law that specifically says, despite whatever ordinance a city has, if a business is going to suffer a material loss of visibility to comply, it doesn’t have to bring its sign into compliance,” Aran told the News-Ledger on Monday. “I’ve represented U-Haul on a number of these cases.”
How did those work out?
“The signs are still standing.”
The problem with the West Sacramento property, said Aran, is that U-Haul’s truck rental customers may have trouble finding the facility to pick up or return a vehicle, and they may be looking for it at night. The pole sign – which Aran estimated at 35 feet tall – is needed so they can spot U-Haul and safely pull onto the property.
Aran said the company has tried to work with the code enforcement department to explain its visibility issues or craft a compromise, but that the city hasn’t cooperated.
“The issue for us is that U-Haul wants to be a good corporate citizen,” said Aran. “It’s not like we haven’t tried to figure out a solution.”
The News-Ledger took a look at the sign from the east (approaching from Jefferson Boulevard) and also from the west (from Harbor).
It looked like a shorter sign (at the 12-foot legal maximum) might be partly screened by the company’s own trucks in its parking lot. On the other hand, the existing tall sign might already be hard to spot from the westbound lanes during some seasons, because of the tree canopy on the median.
“We got into a big truck and came down West Capitol Avenue from both directions, and spotted the sign,” said Larry Brooks of the city’s code enforcement department in August. “It is our contention that the (current) sign cannot be seen by most drivers anyway, because of the tree canopy. In this day and age of smart phones and GPS, drivers already know which way to turn.”
Aran argued that either the city’s sign ordinance, or its enforcement, might be too selective. For example, a McDonalds near U-Haul sports a very tall flagpole with an American flag at the top – and a McDonald’s flag just under it.
“These are the kinds of exceptions they’ve made for their preferred free speech,” said Aran.
The Yolo courts have not yet set a hearing date for the issue.
Copyright News-Ledger 2012
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