Rocklin sets sights on sign ordinance

City, Chamber of Commerce meet to brainstorm ideas
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald correspondent
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City officials have signaled a willingness to tackle issues from the much-maligned sign ordinance.

Vice Mayor Scott Yuill told the Rocklin City Council at its meeting last Tuesday that the goal is not to reinvent the sign ordinance, but to address continued code violations recently studied by the police department.

“Just bring some clarity and definition to help compliance, to help everyone comply,” Yuill said.

The city is looking to the Rocklin Area Chamber of Commerce to reach out to the community and get business owners and stakeholders engaged in the conversation. Then the City Council will use its outline of the framework for the city to look at. What may have caused some added confusion is the recessionary economic stimulus measure that relaxed some rules, including keeping A-frame signs out more than 90 days, as the original ordinance mandated.

Sunset Market owner Bobbie Singh puts out a temporary sign advertising California Lottery tickets that he sells at his Sunset Boulevard convenience store, but admits he doesn’t know much about the rules. The sign does not appear to be an A-frame type.

“I’ve put it out there and no one has said anything to me,” Singh said.

Neighbor Nasser Sger, owner of Primo Pizza Burger and Brew, only places his A-frame advertisement near the road when business is slow.

“Yes. It’s good for business,” Sger said.

Rocklin Police Department Chief Ron Lawrence told the council at its strategic planning session last month that his staff has been educating owners on compliance over a six-month period.

“What I discovered is that most businesses did not really know or understand the rules,” Law-rence said.

City Manager Rick Horst directed Lawrence to step up enforcement as the city studies the issue. The sunset clause on the relaxed rules ends Dec. 31.

“Our relaxed sign ordinance comes to an end at the end of this year,” Yuill said. “We are going to face having to finalize some sort of ordinance. I am not advocating we open up the sign ordinance and start from scratch, but there are areas we can fine-tune.”

Rocklin Community Development Director Sherri Abbas told the council sign ordinances are tough to regulate.

“The sign ordinance is and always will be the bane of every (city) planner’s existence,” Abbas said. “It is a difficult, difficult thing to regulate. There are many, many competing factors.”

Abbas admits the sign ordinance could be confusing.

“I personally believe the biggest problem in the area of temporary signs, not the permanent signs, not the freestanding ones – it’s the banners, balloons, blow-up gorilla and the fire engine with the flag hanging from it,” Abbas said.

City Councilmember Dave Butler, a chamber member, suggested the burden is in the details.

“We need to strive to make it simple,” he said. “I think people would like to follow the ordinance and there are probably some who don’t really give a rip. But we ought to strive for simplicity so we can encourage compliance.”

Abbas suggested the changes could be an uphill climb.

“When it comes to banners, owners can have their banner up for 90 days out of the year,” she said. “How do we get the message out? How do we permit them? Do we charge them for a permit? What 90 days are we talking about? It is 90 consecutive days? You can see how it can spiral off.”

City Attorney Russell Hildebrand warned first amendment rights need to be accounted for.

“It all goes well until the big (legal) fight unfolds,” he said. “The legal framework is really pretty simple. It’s speech. You get to have the sign – the city has absolutely no right to regulate that except for safety purposes or aesthetics. Then you have to be clear and concise and be able to identify exactly what’s wrong as the basis of your regulation.”

The city may have to win the business owners over, as well. All Muffler Owner Mark Price places his A-frame sign in the back of an eye-catching 1932 Ford pickup parked off the road so he won’t be hassled by code enforcement.

“As far as I can see, Rocklin is not pro-business,” Price said. “If you go right across the border in Roseville, the ordinance is completely different. It’s like night and day.”

Price suggested Rocklin should evaluate Roseville’s sign rules.

“They need to have a reality check look at what Roseville is doing,” he said. “People are leaving Rocklin and going there. The only reason I haven’t is because the business has been here since 1989 and the location is known.”

The council’s ad-hoc Job and Business Growth Committee, with Yuill and Mayor Diana Ruslin, will have the first crack at any proposed changes before the full council gets involved.

“The goal is to bring all that together and bring it back to the council very soon and come up with some solutions,” said Yuill, who is also a small business owner in Rocklin.