REDONDO BEACH — Whether it is a wholesome photo of Miss America beaming at motorists on the Pacific Coast Highway or an enticing snapshot of a frosty glass of Budweiser beer welcoming visitors to City Hall, city officials here are appalled.
Both outdoor advertisements, along with dozens of others existing or proposed, constitute what city planning officials have characterized as a proliferation of billboards in Redondo Beach.
As a result, the City Council this week declared all new large outdoor advertisements an "immediate threat" to the public health, safety and welfare. The council, acting unanimously, approved an emergency ordinance requested by the Planning Department that bans the issuance of permits for large billboards in the city for 45 days.
"The rapid increase in the number of outdoor advertising signs is creating aesthetic and visual problems," Planning Director Harlan J. Curwick warned in a memorandum to the City Council. "These new billboards will dominate the commercial skyline of the city to the detriment of existing businesses."
City officials said the community has experienced a sudden popularity with billboard firms and planners were caught off guard. Within the past two months, Curwick said, the Planning Department has received five applications for new 300-square-foot billboards--double the number usually received in an entire year.
Planning associate Paul Connolly, who proposed the emergency ordinance at a council meeting Monday night, said applications in the past have usually been for smaller outdoor advertisements. City planners, residents and businesses, while eager to control all billboards, are particularly concerned about the large 300-square-foot signs, he said.
Ordinance Being Drafted
Connolly said the Planning Department and the city attorney have been drafting a new ordinance designed to make the approval process for large billboards more rigorous.
That proposed ordinance, however, will not be ready for City Council review until next month--far too late, planners fear, to stem the current flood of applications, he said.
"In the last couple of years we have experienced quite an increase in the level of commercialization in the town," said Connolly, offering one theory for the sudden billboard boom that has generally has puzzled city officials. "Maybe the billboards are following the changing economic times."
The most recent large billboard to join the Redondo Beach skyline was constructed by Foster & Kleiser, a Los Angeles firm that specializes in outdoor advertising. That sign features Sharlene Wells, Miss America 1985, and is bracketed by a Japanese restaurant and a liquor store at the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Pearl Street.
Connolly said the billboard, which is visible from blocks away, dramatizes the need for more intense city review of applications. The billboard did not require city approval because it conformed with all requirements of the city code, he said.
In contrast, a groundswell of opposition by residents living near the intersection of Grant Avenue and Aviation Boulevard persuaded the Planning Commission last February to reject an application for a 300-square-foot sign at 1600 Aviation Blvd. That application was subject to city review because it did not conform with the city code and the billboard required a conditional-use permit, Connolly said.
Planners say they want to include a provision in the proposed new ordinance that will permit the Planning Department and Planning Commission to review all billboard approvals. According to the emergency ordinance, the review process would determine whether the proposed sign would interfere with, obstruct or distract traffic; cause blight for neighboring houses and businesses by creating shadows or restricting solar access, or destroy the "aesthetic character" of buildings or neighborhoods.
City officials have also criticized current city codes that govern outdoor advertising for allowing unnecessarily large billboards. Connolly said the 300-square-foot maximum size for billboards is the same size allowed next to major expressways.
"We are an old town with strip commercial zoning, meaning residential areas abut commercial areas," Connolly said. "That means billboards are seldom more than 100 feet from homes. That is not pleasant for these people."
With these complaints and others in mind, city officials included strict requirements in the emergency ordinance for exemptions from the 45-day moratorium. Specifically, all applications for outdoor advertising during this period must be approved by the Planning Commission, and no application can be approved if it is for a sign larger than 200 square feet.
The emergency ordinance also prohibits signs higher than 32 feet (13 feet less than the current code) and requires that signs be at least 600 feet apart (200 feet farther than the current code).
City officials said they hope to incorporate some of the emergency provisions into the proposed new ordinance. "We are trying to shape an ordinance that is as narrowly restrictive and legally defensible as possible," said City Manager Timothy Casey.