Planning Commission tackles sign ordinance

Mark Wardlaw likes to tell the story about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s latest visit to Mammoth.

“This place hasn’t changed since the 80s!”the former California governor was to have said.

Well, that’s obviously stretching it, the town’s community development director said. Then again, Wardlaw said that maybe Arnold was merely looking at the town’s signs and condos, which haven’t changed much since, um, the ’80s.

Since then, modifications to the old sign ordinance have been made; many features of the old ordinance were flat-out ignored (a ban on banner signs, for example), while older signs have been allowed to waste away under the withering Eastern Sierra sun.

So it was that the Mammoth Lakes Planning Commission on Wednesday leapt into the murky waters of changing the town’s sign ordinance – where many have gone before and none have come back alive.

For instance, at a recent planning commission meet-ing, longtime businessman Tom Cage implored the commission to leave him out of any sign ordinance committees, having partici-pated in several since 1993, when the current sign ordinance went into effect.

But that was 18 years ago. Since then, Mammoth’s sign owners have taken every advantage of every loophole possible to make the town’s signage such as it is, a visual cacophony.

The sign ordinance re-do is tucked into a zoning code update proposal, and there seems to be a method to it.

On Wednesday the planning commission heard recommendations from the Zoning Code Users Group (ZCUG).

This group includes Bill Taylor, Bruce Woodward, Dave Harvey, (Planning Commissioner) Jay Deinken, Jim Smith, Mary Handel and (Planning Commission Chair) Tony Barrett.

The commission took no action, nor was it required to in the workshop format, although the commission looked favorably on some notable changes.

These changes deal with types of signs, their allowed height and width, electronic signs, and so on.
Among the new regulations that appeared to get consensus were:

• Halo lit signs. Currently prohibited, these signs are lit from behind an opaque object. (Tonik, in the Village, is a good example. Aside from the Village, halo signs currently are prohibited.

• Signs with neon details. Currently, only signs of two and a half feet, such as “Open” signs are allowed.
• Banner signs, currently prohibited (!), would be allowed for sales and promotions for no longer than a total of 30 days a year.

In all, the ZCUG made 13 recommendations, and at least one business owner, John Mueller (John’s Pizza Works) came away hopeful.

“It seems like [the planning commission] is being a little more friendly toward business,” he said.
“It used to be that we were supposed to have no banners and no neon. This seems to be going a little more in the right direction.”

The commissioners, in their discussion, weaved this way and that, but when it came to the banners, Elizabeth Tenney had one caveat.

“Just as long as we don’t have the ‘droopy drawers’ signs that sag at the first hint of wind.”

In the end the Planning Commission handed the report to the Town Council, which will get a look at it next week at a council workshop. After the lawyers get through with it, the council anticipates public hearings will get off the ground in March and April.