Santa Barbara Signage Misconceptions

Sign Committee Has No Power to Threaten or Penalize

Preventing sign clutter is among the Santa Barbara Sign Committee's responsibilities. | Credit: WikiCommons

With all the recent news coverage regarding Institution Ale, I was compelled to address the obvious Sign Committee misunderstandings and misconceptions that have been reported by local news organizations. The Sign Committee is an all-volunteer reviewing body composed of individuals from our community who are genuinely concerned with the impact of poorly designed, manufactured, and installed signage in our city.

Unfortunately, it has been incorrectly reported on several occasions that the Sign Committee has the power to threaten and penalize businesses that break the rules and install signs without design review or permits. This is categorically false. Only city zoning enforcement staff can initiate this penalty process.

It is unfortunate that there are individuals and businesses that consciously disobey the rules and beg for forgiveness after they have installed unpermitted work. It is standard procedure for them as they have learned how to abuse the system. Regrettably, it is an all too familiar practice.

As a sign designer, fabricator, and owner of Signs By Ken in Santa Barbara for the last 43 years, I can happily report that the sign review process has been made easier. Generally, an application can obtain an approval within a week, provided they have followed the guidelines. This is known as a simple Conforming Process that has been successful with approximately 90 percent of the sign applications.

The remaining 10 percent of the applications generally are more complex or require an exception approval and are reviewed by the full committee. Exceptions can be granted when applicants demonstrate that they have unusual circumstances that meet the three listed criteria in the Sign Ordinance. As an example, a recent applicant was granted an exception allowing the installation of letters larger than the 12 inches allowed after clearly demonstrating how the exception criteria were met.

Santa Barbara’s cityscape is the result of a review process that has a produced beautiful architecture, landscaping, treescaping, and signs. This is part of the reason people from all over the world visit our fine city. It is not without coincidence that Santa Barbara has one of the oldest design review boards in the country.

If there were no Sign Ordinance or review process, walking down State Street would be a hazardous venture as the sidewalks would be littered with A-frame signboards. You would have to watch your head as signs projecting out from buildings would be oversized and hanging dangerously low. The colors on the signs would be in sharp contrast to the buildings they were mounted on. Blinking and rotating signs, LED message boards, and brightly illuminated signs would spoil one’s vision as you strolled at night. Your view of the mountains and ocean would be obscured with pole signs and billboards. Our parking lots would be seas of asphalt without landscaping and trees. Have you been to Lincoln Boulevard in Los Angeles lately?

After 43 years of producing and installing signs in Santa Barbara, I interviewed with and was appointed to the Sign Committee last year. I now serve as the Sign Committee chairperson. I also served a two-year term from 1984-1986. My motivation to volunteer as a member of the Sign Committee was my belief that it was important for the committee to have an industry representative to bring a business perspective to the design review process.

I have received awards for sign design and sign fabrication from the sign industry, the City of Santa Barbara, and Santa Barbara Beautiful. I take pride in the fact that many of my signs can still be seen scattered up and down State Street. Throughout this time, I have submitted hundreds of sign applications, and I have personally experienced the changes to the city’s sign review process and participated in updating the sign ordinance. I respect city staff and the sign review system, and I can affirm that the city has made the sign review process more streamlined to the benefit of the business community.

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