Without his flashing neon sign, Jack Weitz considers himself handicapped in the competition that goes on each day at the corner of Fairfax Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard.
Like the other businessmen at the crowded intersection, Weitz needs to capture people's attention to draw them inside his store, the Big Man's Shop. His neighbors all have their own methods: Heart of Glass, a glass shop next door, has romantic hearts etched into its display window. Santa Fair Pharmacy, across the street, uses a rooftop mortar and pestle. Nancy the fortune-teller painted a giant red palm by her front door.
Weitz opted to keep the flashing neon arrow that was over his display window when he bought the clothing store for big and tall men ("Ready to Wear Clothes--Sizes 44 to 60") 15 years ago. "I inherited it," he said. "It's not an artistic beauty, but it works. It brings people in."
Not for long. Weitz, like 50 other merchants in West Hollywood, received a notice from the city government last month informing him that the blinking arrow violated city law and that the blinking would have to cease. Weitz's reaction was: "What's the matter with these crazy people?"
Developing Temporary Ordinance
The West Hollywood City Council, having disposed of rent control and on the verge of tackling a major revision of its community plan, has turned its attention to developing a temporary ordinance to control the community's proliferation of signs ranging from the mammoth film industry billboards that loom over the Sunset Strip to the small neon arrow over Jack Weitz's display window.
Last week, the council heard testimony on a proposed ordinance that would prohibit the use of roof and pole signs, limit the use of wall signs and ban the construction of billboards.
Many of the new provisions are not much different from existing Los Angeles County laws that West Hollywood had temporarily adopted, pending approval of its own ordinance. But the city is promising the added weight of enforcement that the county never provided.
Jack Weitz, for example, has turned on his flashing neon sign at the start of every business day for 15 years, unaware that both the existing county laws and the proposed West Hollywood ordinance ban the use of such signs.
"The problem with many of these county laws is that they were hardly ever enforced," said Mark Winogrond, West Hollywood's new director of community development.
In early September, Winogrond notified the 51 owners of flashing neon lights that the signs violated the county law. "The reason for the law is simple," Winogrond said. "It was felt that flashing signs are a traffic hazard because they distract drivers."
The notices sparked protests from many businessmen who were stunned to find themselves in violation of the law and threatened with prosecution. "I didn't exactly feel that my sign was an eyesore," Weitz said.
Although 25 merchants complied quickly, many complained about the tone of the letters. "A lot of businessmen had the impression they were under siege or something," Councilwoman Valerie Terrigno said.
Although city officials have promised to be more sensitive in the future, they maintain that the community's signs need to be scaled back and controlled.
"What you see when you enter West Hollywood is a tremendous amount of visual clutter," said Councilman Alan Viterbi. "We're trying to give this city a cleaner look."
Some business leaders agree. "We certainly don't want the mass confusion that's developed," said Richard Settle, a photographer who heads the West Hollywood Community Alliance. "We do feel we need some sort of ordinance."
City officials placed a freeze on all sign construction last November. Community leaders say the moratorium should not have been enacted and are puzzled by the council's sudden interest in the matter.
'Hardly a Top Priority'
"It seems to me that this is the kind of issue we need to worry about later," said Allen Chivens, a member of West Hollywood West, a homeowner's group. "It hardly seems like a top priority, especially when we have an entire community plan to deal with."
But councilmen Viterbi and Stephen Schulte have pushed hard for the interim ordinance, pointing to neighboring Beverly Hills as a community where sign regulations have eliminated visual clutter and may even attract shoppers.
"Businesses do well in Beverly Hills because Beverly Hills is a pleasant place to shop," Viterbi said. "Certainly, West Hollywood is a more eclectic community. But you can look different without looking like garbage."
West Hollywood's Chamber of Commerce and many of its members appear to agree. "The council seems to want order and to get rid of the trashy look--all these derelict sidewalk signs and window signs that seem to be springing up all over the place," said chamber President Kay McGraw. "We can support that."