Every few years, some people get upset about the number of advertising signs on Cambria sidewalks, streets and street corners and in other public locations that technically are county or state right-of-way areas.
California and San Luis Obispo County laws and ordinances regulate those spots, and spell out what can and cannot be there.
Road hazards, obstructions, trash and advertising signs cannot, and the rules say those have to be removed. Anything else in a public right-of-way area needs a permit before it can be placed there.
Frank Honeycutt, development services division manager for county Public Works, spoke to North Coast Advisory Council (NCAC) members on Jan. 21. He plans to meet with the Cambria Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors on Tuesday, Feb. 17.
Honeycutt told NCAC there are three issues: public safety (you can’t block drivers’ sight distance, for instance), public access and quality of life.
The first two “are not negotiable,” he said. People need to be safe when traversing county right-of-way areas, such as sidewalks, and the county must comply with requirements of the Americans with Disability Act.
Honeycutt said he has three basic options:
- Do a clean sweep through town, first sending out “nastygram” notices, and then removing every sign that’s where it’s not supposed to be. “I don’t like to have to do that,” he said. “We started to do that with campaign signs” during the 2014 election. “Few people were happy, and we got a lot of calls.”
- Delay responding, hoping people remove the signs on their own. The consequence of that concept, unfortunately, is that “the number of signs grows and grows,” which is what has been happening lately.
- Develop a consensus about “quality of life,” and “whether certain signs help or hurt the community.”
Honeycutt hopes to take a slightly different tack on the latter, working with such groups as NCAC and the chamber to determine whether the community wants a gray zone for certain kinds of fliers and signs to temporarily be in the public areas. Some categories that might be considered include notices for garage sales, events sponsored by nonprofit organizations, schools or scouts, or benefits to raise money for a needy family or patient.
He said kiosks that group commercial signs on one private-property location can help reduce sandwich-sign clutter. Some communities allow a certain number of sandwich boards that meet specific size and style criteria.
Honeycutt also said tourist-oriented directional signs, such as “10 miles to the next gas” or one that directs people to an area of wineries “can help reduce the number of U-turns on the road.”
He asked NCAC members Jan. 21 whether they would like to participate in such a brainstorming affiliation for a pilot program, perhaps with one encroachment permit each for the East and West village areas, a permit that would cover up to a certain number of signs.
A lengthy discussion followed, with widely varying opinions from NCAC and chamber members, representatives of the Beautify Cambria Committee and some people who objected to how political signs were removed but other signs in the same areas were left behind. Barbara Bronson Gray, for instance, said her research into that issue found that removing political signs in a pre-election period is illegal if other signs are allowed to remain in place.
As council Chairman Bruce Fosdike understated, “This is a very complicated subject.”
Council members passed on a 9-3 vote a recommendation that Public Works abide by existing codes.
Honeycutt said later that, in addition to following that recommendation, “there’s a kinder, gentler way” than simply yanking out every sign that’s in the wrong place.
“Voluntary compliance is much preferable,” and he hopes that can be achieved through the consensus-building relationships of the two groups and Public Works.