Town bending signage rules

By: Lien Hoang Loomis News Correspondent
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Did looser signage rules give Loomis businesses more options to attract customers, or are they turning some streets into a place where signs go to die? The town council is revisiting those rules after easing them in the wake of the recession. At a meeting Aug. 9, council asked staff to look into how the town could help local businesses use signs more effectively to bring traffic to the area. At issue is a sign ordinance whose permit, location and timing requirements have been bent. The leniency was meant to allow for more commercial signs, but other placards and boards have popped up, too — and stayed up. “We started with a noble thought,” councilman Walt Scherer said. “We wouldn’t want to hinder business, but it really is making our town look very, very bad.” To return to the council’s original, business-friendly intent, councilman Gary Liss assigned staff three priorities to research: signs that guide drivers to Swetzer Road; monument signs listing businesses on that road, as well as on Sierra College Boulevard and Taylor Road; and a monument sign for each business cluster along Swetzer. Discussion on the topic began after Town Manager Perry Beck read an email from Elden Lewis, of Sierra Stair Works. Lewis wrote that businesses “need help getting our customers to our door” and that “we are dying out here.” The council did not offer plans to ameliorate the blight of unwanted signs, many of which were erected and then apparently forgotten. But Scherer suggested the solution might not be ordinance revision, so much as enforcement of when and where signs can go up. In other council news, an energy project got the green light, despite questions about whether it involved a conflict of interest and competitive bidding. Councilman Miguel Ucovich was alone in voting against the contract, which was granted to Placer Sustain to facilitate a pilot project that increases buildings’ energy efficiency and reliance on solar energy. Liss chairs Placer Sustain, raising concerns that the council was biased in approving a contract with the organization. But Liss said that after seeking legal advice, he determined he could discuss and vote on the $5,000 contract because it would not benefit him financially. Still, residents at the council meeting asked why the project didn’t solicit other bids or take advantage of free start-up services from PG&E. Scherer answered that those services weren’t sufficient to implement the project, while Beck said there were no other bids because, from the start, the town had been working with Placer Sustain, which was willing to get involved at minimal cost. “This is a group of citizens trying to make Loomis sustainable, both in food and energy, and other ways,” Beck said. In other town business, the council did not take up a vote to modify the animal keeping ordinance, as recommended by staff. Among the most significant amendments was one that would allow quarter-acre property owners to keep up to four hens without permits. Residents who just want a few fowl in order to gather their own eggs would stand to benefit. Currently, the permits cost $1,380 and entail public notice. Most attendees seemed to agree that the cost was prohibitive, but were divided on whether the broadened rules would be fair to neighbors sharing in the birds’ noise and odor. Liss, who wanted the changes to benefit larger properties and require a smaller setback, sent them back to staff for reconsideration. “Animals are important to the town of Loomis,” he said. “It’s part of our rural heritage.”