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Businesses balk at signage enforcement
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The City of Turlock’s effort to reign in out-of-control illegal signage went in front of local business owners Monday night, but business owners say they need that additional signage to help weather the down economy.

Ten businesses attended the information session, hosted by the Turlock Chamber of Commerce, where intricacies of allowed signs and sign permitting standards were relayed by Turlock staff.

Some of the rules – including a ban on so-called offsite “snipe signs,” posted without permission – caught business owners by surprise. Ed Yonan, owner of Yonan’s Jewelers, said his business and others have used such signs for years, and that the sudden crackdown could hurt business.

“Why now? Why now?” Yonan asked. “… Business as an overall whole is down now and we need all the help we can get.”

Turlock’s sign ordinance, first drafted in 1967, looks to create an appealing environment for businesses and shoppers alike, free of visual clutter, by limiting signage to city-approved areas. The ordinance is also intended to ensure safety, as unapproved signs can distract motorists or block sidewalks, and ensure a level playing field for all businesses by mandating an acceptable level of signage.

“It really doesn’t matter how much signage you have out there, people will always want more,” Turlock Deputy Development Services Director Debbie Whitmore said.

Small violations of those rules hadn’t been enforced in recent years, however, and the down economy led to an explosion of illegal signage. The City of Turlock began an effort to cut down on illegal signs like feather signs, blow-up soda cups, unpermitted banners, and dancing characters in August.

According to Turlock Police Chief Gary Hampton, the recession has driven businesses to employ larger, more intrusive signs. Where a business might have used a small sandwich board sign in the past – illegal, save for in the Downtown Core – those businesses are building 4 feet by 8 feet structures now. A small sign atop a vehicle has become a 20-foot behemoth.

As Turlock Police have contacted egregious offenders, those businesses are quick to point fingers at other, oftentimes lesser violators.

“I cannot tell my staff ignore this one, but don’t ignore that one,” Hampton said. “Starting to be selective is where we head down the wrong road.”

The Turlock Police have tried to head the problem off before it occurs, beginning an education campaign to inform business owners and sign shops of the city’s regulations. Should the police receive a complaint, the Turlock Police contacts violators and asks them to remove illegal signs, pointing out legal ways to meet their advertising needs.

“You know what they tell us? ‘I’m not taking it down,’” Hampton said.

In those cases, the violation heads to Turlock’s nuisance abatement program and, possibly, to the Turlock City Attorney and criminal court.

 “We don’t want to go that far,” said Turlock Police Captain Rob Jackson. “Our whole goal on this is to seek compliance.”

But business owners – and Chamber CEO Sharon Silva – expressed concerned that Turlock’s sign ordinance has outlived its useful life. While the sign rules may have made sense when adopted, they argued, it’s time for change.

“The marketing has changed as the community has grown,” Silva said. “As the shopping centers have developed, we’re still looking at an ordinance done in 1967.”

That ordinance was reviewed and rewritten about eight years ago, Whitmore said, but the basic tenets of the law are by-and-large intact from 1967. That’s largely because public comment showed most Turlockers want even fewer signs than allowed in the ordinance, Whitmore said.

Businesses do have the option to approach the Turlock Planning Commission to request a review of the ordinance. Such a review would take months to complete, being of little help to businesses preparing for the holiday shopping season.

In the meantime, an option for Turlock businesses in need of some temporary holiday signage is already in place: temporary sign permits allow businesses to post banners advertising sales for a maximum of 60 days per year. Review of the permits, which cost $35, can be performed in a day at Turlock City Hall.

Some business owners balked at the cost and time associated with obtaining such a permit, but city staff expressed a reluctance to consider a moratorium on the sign ordinance for the holiday season.

“Rather than asking the council to direct staff to ignore the law, which is fraught with difficulties, the fix is there,” said City Manager Roy Wasden. “Use the resources that already are in place.”

For more information on Turlock’s sign ordinance, visit

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.