La Jolla Planners OK ‘sandwich board’ amendment

La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) took a step toward allowing A-frame signs (aka sandwich boards) in the Village, when it narrowly voted to amend applicable regulations during its July 7 meeting at La Jolla Rec Center. The vote indicates LJCPA support for striking a sentence found in the La Jolla Planned District Ordinance that reads: “In La Jolla, A-frame signs are not permitted.” The item next goes to City Council President Sherri Lightner.

Hopeful that the action will decrease the number of pervasive and excessive sandwich boards popping up in the right-of-ways in the Village by providing a mechanism for enforcement, removing the exclusion subject La Jolla to the same rules and regulations as the rest of the city.

As it currently stands, the City of San Diego has a program known as the Public Right of Way (PROW) that allows a business to cheaply and easily apply for a permit to legally have a freestanding A-frame sign nearby, so long as it meets certain criteria. Except in La Jolla.

“We are the only Business Improvement District (BID) that has a caveat that says you cannot have signs in the Village in the right-of-way,” explained La Jolla Village Merchant’s Association chair Claude-Anthony Marengo. “We want to take that sentence out, and make ourselves uniform with the rest of the BIDs in the city. That way, the city knows how to enforce it. We could provide an identifier, like a sticker, to show which ones are legally in conformance, that way when the city comes to do enforcement, they know what to look for.”

According to the city’s PROW enhancement program guidelines, things to look for include: Only those businesses fronting on the PROW and located on the first floor may participate in this program; only one freestanding sign per business is allowed, and it must be located directly in front of the business it represents; the maximum footprint of a freestanding sign shall be two feet by three feet, and the sign height measure between three feet and four feet.

If La Jolla were in line with city guidelines, and sandwich boards had to adhere to the criteria, ones that are not in conformance would be easier to spot, and might not be such a daunting task for enforcement officers.

Previous attempts to regulate the prohibited signage – whose ban was sanctioned by the defunct Promote La Jolla – were unsuccessful. When Promote La Jolla dissolved in 2011, there went any form of local enforcement. Further, because La Jolla has different rules from what the city has, city enforcement became more complicated.

“When we tried to make the city enforce the prohibition, the code enforcement officer said it was too much for them to take on (due to the number of businesses in violation and the lengthy process to notify them) and that because we wanted to have our rules and be different, we needed to enforce it,” Marengo said. “But as a Merchant’s Association, we don’t want to punish our merchants.”

Although several stated their opposition to the presence of sandwich boards, a handful also stated concern that allowing and regulating them would “blow the barn door open” and could yield “unintended consequences.”

Nevertheless, a motion to support the change in language passed 7-5-2.

In other LJCPA news:

Shores Mural debated: For nearly an hour, LJCPA discussed and debated the mural that went up on the Kellogg Building at 2259 Avenida de la Playa in La Jolla Shores as part of the Murals of La Jolla public art program. At issue was whether it conforms to La Jolla Shores’ Planned District Ordinance.

Although LJCPA approved the Murals of La Jolla program, the question was raised whether that approval extends to La Jolla Shores, which has its own Permit Review Committee, community advisory association, Design Manual and Planned District Ordinance.

An exchange about whether the community should see the art before it goes up, and whether that would make community advisory groups “art critics” ensued, but because the Murals of La Jolla program places pieces on private property, the point is moot.

Suggesting the Shores artwork is not even a mural, but a sign or “super-graphic,” LJCPA trustee Phil Merten said due to its Mexican theme and iconography, and its proximity to a Mexican restaurant, there could be a commercial benefit, and should therefore not be considered public art. As such, it would need to be examined under the Shores Planned District Ordinance section that pertains to signs in the commercial zone, including the limitations on size and color.

Merten explained, “As I go through La Jolla, I see these murals (and find them to be) interesting pieces of art, they make you think about what you are looking at. But I don’t see any connection between those murals and business in the buildings on which the mural happens to be. But this mural … incorporates the theme of the Mexican restaurant. That makes it a commercial sign; it is giving a presence to this small building where they sell tacos.”

A motion that the piece should come down as the issue of a possible ordinance violation is investigated, failed. However, LJCPA trustee Ray Weiss opined that the mural is a form of artistic expression and therefore not subject to LJCPA approval. As such, he moved that “it is the opinion of LJCPA that the mural (at 2259 Avenida de la Playa) is a matter of non-commercial artistic self-expression and the La Jolla Shores Planned District Ordinance does not apply.” His motion passed.

Shannon wins a seat: In the special election that preceded the meeting, for which three candidates ran for a two-year term seat on the LJCPA, John Shannon won. He will be sworn in at the next meeting.

—La Jolla Community Planning Association next meets 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 4 at La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St.