DRAFT COUNTY SIGN ORDINANCE: PUBLIC INPUT BEGINS
County staff has released a draft County-wide Sign Ordinance and scheduled public meetings as recently reported. The Agricultural Commission held its public hearing this week with additional hearings scheduled as follows: Interested stakeholder groups and the public on Monday, August 19th at the Planning Commission Hearing Room; and Planning Commission review/discussion at their scheduled August 22nd meeting. For more information and details go to: http://www.edcgov.us/Government/Planning/
The draft Sign Ordinance includes new policies outlining the legal framework and will include new sign permit procedures. It includes lists of exempt and prohibited signs, and has updated definitions, development and design standards. It has consolidated existing standards for permanent on-site signs and expanded standards for temporary on-site signs. It also establishes rules for signs on public property and sets forth rules for illegal, abandoned and non-conforming signs.
Members of the community have expressed concern that the Sign Ordinance, as developed by a consultant for El Dorado County, did not interact with the community prior to drafting the document. The result doesn’t recognize El Dorado County’s varied rural versus urban needs. And although the public can provide input after-the-fact as noticed above, the new way of doing business, as promoted by Regulatory Reformers during the LUPPU process (the “cultural change”), is to gather knowledgeable people from diverse areas of interest of the community, including knowledgeable county staff, and create a product that works for as many of those interests as possible. It was disappointing to see the old way of creating regulations return.
To many the current flaw in this Sign Ordinance is the fact that without involved public input upfront, the Sign Ordinance is unworkable and, to some future users, the whole draft is almost useless. According to one member of the public, “We have to start ‘almost’ from scratch which takes even more hours of volunteer time than starting fresh!” An example cited regarding the shortcomings of the current sign ordinance development process, is that not one word mentioned or alluded to during the introduction, noted agricultural and rural land owners’ signage concerns. According to one attendee, “This just proved to me that this is an off-the-shelf suburban ordinance that’s an expedient, if extremely expensive, rapid response to a one-issue problem: But billboards and rural signage have absolutely NOTHING in common.”
Valerie Zentner, of the EDC Farm Bureau, has reviewed the proposed Sign Ordinance and presented the Agricultural Commissioners with numerous photos of existing signs in and around El Dorado County. Clearly a great deal of time and money has already been invested by the agriculture and tourism industry in local signage to promote rural ag tourism areas. Yet many of those existing signs would be in violation of the new Ordinance or are not addressed in it at all.
Concerns were also expressed that the Ordinance is redundant, confusing and internally inconsistent. Definitions and requirements require flipping through multiple sections which are in conflict with one another. References to the Zoning Code includes old zone designators and some new designators as proposed but not yet adopted – creating even more confusion. However, the Sign Ordinance update process was originally to be deferred until after the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance Update, which is part of the ongoing Land Use Policy Programmatic Update (LUPPU) process. On August 7, 2012, the Board of Supervisors directed staff to move forward to prepare a new Sign Ordinance, notwithstanding the ongoing LUPPU/draft Zoning Ordinance review process.
Zentner further stated that although all off-site signs are not created equal – they are treated the same in the draft Ordinance. That is: A billboard is regulated in the same manner as is a commercial business sign.
Although staff stated that sign permit processes are yet to be developed, the fee schedules have also not yet been addressed. Yet fees are almost always a major concern for local businesses and individuals. The more unwieldy the process, the more staff (and business peoples) time is required, and the higher the fees go, as the public “user” must pay for staff time anticipated in the fee structures. It is also impossible to analyze and thus testify as to the economic costs of the new sign program without this information.