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City sign ordinance under review
As the Planning Commission reviews the Citys sign ordinance during public workshops over the coming months, City staff will be seeking public input on whether the City should allow advertising techniques such as human billboards and sign twirling. - photo by CARA HALLAM/The Journal

Drawing in customers through large, eye-catching signs has been a way of boosting sales for small and large businesses alike for decades. As the planning commission continues to move forward with updating the City’s sign ordinance over the coming months, however, local businesses may see new regulations that would limit such advertising.

On Thursday, the Turlock Planning Commission held an informal workshop reviewing several proposals from City staff on sign development standards that would put new limits on the maximum number of signs permitted, the maximum area, and overall sign height for buildings within city limits. The proposed standards, which are currently only drafts for discussion purposes, would vary on the type of use, whether residential, institutional, commercial and industrial, in addition to a building’s size.

For example, day care centers operating out of a home would be permitted one sign per lot with a maximum area of one square foot and height of 6 feet, while an apartment complex with over 30 units would be allowed two wall signs with a maximum area of 30 square feet and height of 20 feet, or the height of the outer wall.

While many of the proposed changes are not drastically different from the City’s current sign ordinance, Planning Director Debbie Whitmore says that City staff is simply trying to mirror the standard sign programs that are in place throughout multiple shopping centers and plazas as a citywide standard for future development.

“We’re really trying to create a standard for things such as the type of lettering, how many signs are allowed for one business, and the overall area of the signs,” said Whitmore. “Right now we’re just having informal discussions focusing on the structure of basic sign standards and design guidelines.”

Although much of Thursday’s workshop focused on such basic standards, Commissioner Mike Brem brought up the question that had sparked controversy during previous meetings related to amending the City’s sign ordinance: Will the City of Turlock continue to allow human signs, such as sign spinning?

“This commission has made it clear that they would like to see an amendment to the City’s sign ordinance that wouldn’t allow advertising techniques such as human sign spinners in the public right of way,” said Whitmore. “We currently haven’t taken any action on this, as we’re first trying to get the basic structure down. After which point, we’d need to continue seeking input from the public on whether or not commercial sign spinning is something that should be allowed in public space.”

The debate on human billboards and sign spinners is not specific to Turlock, as many cities around the nation have either banned or strictly regulated sign-twirling and similar advertising techniques due to public safety concerns. In Huntington Beach, City Council members upheld a ban on sign spinners even after planning commissioners had supported allowing the popular trend, due to safety concerns and aesthetic reasons. One Huntington Beach councilmember had deemed the act as “obnoxious” and a “form of visual blight” — an opinion very similar to that of several Turlock planning commissioners.

While some consider sign spinning to be a visual nuisance, others see it as a necessary form of advertising, particularly for small business owners in tucked-away locations that cannot be seen from main roads. Throughout early discussions on the matter, a number of local business owners addressed the planning commission during public meetings, voicing their concerns about prohibiting the form of advertising. As the issue continues to be addressed over the coming months, Whitmore says she expects, and hopes for, the same type of input from citizens and the local business community.

Although City staff has used the City of Rancho Cucamonga’s sign ordinance as a model for many of their proposed amendments, Whitmore says it has yet to be determined whether or not Turlock will carry over Rancho Cucamonga’s ban on human billboards and sign twirlers.

“The stage we’re in right now is to hold workshops that are very informal so that we can discuss the drafts we’ve put forward,” said Whitmore. “Although the commission has asked us to look into that type of ban, there’s still quite a way to go until we can establish a set of amendments that could be voted on, as we need to seek more input from the public.”