Real estate signs upset La Jolla residents, practice restricted by ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’

In preparation for the spring/summer real estate season, “For Sale” and “For Rent” self-standing ground signs are sprouting up on the corners of many streets and yards in The Village. The proliferation has led a few residents to contact La Jolla Light over the legality of the practice.

La Jolla Light reached out to community planning consultant (and resident of Bird Rock) Joe LaCava, for his expertise on the subject. “Yes,” he said, referring to signs in the public right-of-way. “Some people think there’s too much interference on the sidewalks. For others, it’s just too much visual clutter, especially with the mix between City parking signs, commercial signs, etc. Maybe people would be more tolerant if there was a consistency in the designs.”

The San Diego Municipal Code, in LaCava’s words, is “silent” on real estate signs. “Most people interpret that to mean they’re allowed,” he said.

The Municipal Code includes a section for the La Jolla Commercial and Industrial Sign Control District, in which real estate signs are not mentioned. However, it allows “Freestanding Ground Signs” within property lines in front yards with a setback greater than 20 feet from the street:

“No part of the sign shall extend over public property or have a height exceeding 20 feet measured from the base at ground level to the apex of the sign. In the Coastal Overlay Zone, however, no part of the sign shall exceed 8 feet in height,” the Code reads.

However, for LaCava, it’s easier than that. “(For the most part) signs in the public right-of-way are not permitted, but on private property they are,” he said, adding that multi-family residential development (chiefly condominiums) are allowed to put up sings directing people to the site.

La Jolla Realtors have sported a “Gentleman’s Agreement” on real estate signs for years. The practice is not to install “For Sale” or “For Rent” signs within the 92037 ZIP code. Charles Stephens, president of La Jolla Real Estate Association (REBA), confirmed the “rule.”

“We do have a policy with our agents and that is we do not use ‘For Sale’ signs in La Jolla,” he said. “But if the vendor is not a member of REBA, we don’t have much influence.”

La Jolla resident Gale Baccaglini contacted the Light about a short-term vacation rental sign one of her neighbors posted in their front yard. “Signs such as this one degrade La Jolla neighborhoods and are a slap in the face to those who are living close to short-term vacation rentals,” she wrote in an e-mail.

The Light took her concerns to Michelle Aarons, owner of La Jolla Vacation Rentals Ca. (the company responsible for the sign posting), who said that in this specific case, it was the home owner and not the rental agency who requested the sign. “We put signs up sometimes, depending on the location, in The Village and WindanSea we do, in other places we don’t,” she explained.

“We have a great relationship with most neighbors and the community, and we don’t want any kind of ill feeling or ill will,” Aarons said, adding that most of the time whenever someone complains about a rental sign, they remove it.

Asked if she was aware of the “Gentleman’s Agreement” not to post real estate signs in La Jolla, Aarons said she was, but “that’s a separate issue, because vacation rentals aren’t real estate, they are hospitality, we’re in a different arena.”

The San Diego City Council has been wrestling with the short-term vacation rental issue in single-family neighborhoods for the past year. During a public debate Nov. 1, 2016 Council members voted to study a piece of legislation that would regulate whole-house year-round rentals.

LaCava said illegal sign postings in La Jolla are rarely enforced. “They are just kind of tolerated. When you see Code Enforcement come out, and they don’t very often, real estate signs are something they don’t pay any attention to,” he concluded.