After three years of forcing local businesses to comply with city sign laws, Glendale is facing what is likely to be its toughest decision.
Glendale Federal Savings & Loan Assn., the fifth-largest thrift in the nation, is balking at meeting the city's rules and has asked that it be allowed to keep the signs on its landmark eight-story building at 401 N. Brand Blvd. The city says the signs are illegal.
Some city officials say Glendale Federal, considered the most influential business in town, may be able to wrangle some special treatment, even though the city with few exceptions has strictly enforced laws that limit the size and type of signs permitted.
Glendale Federal would not be the first business to get relief from the city's sign laws. Seeley's Furniture in 1984 was granted a variance by the City Council to keep its bright red roof sign on its store at the southern edge of the city. It was preserved because it serves as "the red beacon of Glendale."
There have been a couple of less notable exceptions, as well. But most businesses were ordered to remove signs.
For example, McMahon's Furniture on Brand Boulevard lost its appeal to keep a protruding roof sign, despite its argument that small, legal signs on buildings there are hidden by street trees. Glendale Federal is using the same argument to retain its vertical signs, which are clearly visible to drivers along Brand.
The corporation also argues that its signs are intrinsic to the history of Glendale, where it set up business in 1934. The red, white and blue structure with the words "Glendale Federal Savings" emblazoned vertically on its angled bow was the first high-rise in the city's financial district. The building, lined with blue shutters that open and shut to protect offices from the sun's heat, was completed in 1959.
In addition to two 130-foot-high vertical signs on the protruding stairwell, the thrift has two large horizontal signs on its front walls, where only one is permitted. The city in October ordered the corporation to get rid of two of the four signs. Glendale Federal is the only financial institution in the city that has not yet complied with the regulations and one of fewer than 20 businesses that still have illegal signs, city officials say.
But the thrift, which has assets of $15.5 billion, estimates that removal of the signs would cost $40,000. The company claims that compliance would create a "financial hardship with no measureable benefit to the city." Raymond D. Edwards, chairman of the board, has pledged to personally appear before the City Council to request a variance.
Without discussion, the council Tuesday agreed to hear the thrift's arguments, even though the city's planning director recommended that a hearing be denied. The hearing has been scheduled for 2 p.m. Aug. 5 in the City Council Chambers at City Hall.
Councilman Jerold Milner, who said a Glendale Federal official had asked him to schedule a hearing, said there had been little doubt that the council would accede to the request. "I think we all feel that someone who is such a prominent part of the community as Glendale Federal, that to just turn them down is not the right thing to do," he said.
He added that he is somewhat swayed by the thrift's arguments. "I personally think that that building is unique enough and is a sufficient part of the business history of Glendale and that we can carefully make some exceptions" to the sign rules, he said.
Yet city department officials warn that any concession to Glendale Federal in enforcing the sign laws may undermine the laws altogether.
"The granting of the variance would be an unequal application of the ordinance," wrote Planning Director Gerald Jamriska in a summary of the case addressed to the City Council. "The time has now come and passed for all businesses to abide by the same rules. Glendale Federal Savings should not be an exception."
Officials of some other financial institutions in town are also privately grumbling about Glendale Federal's request for a variance, since, they say, they had to make costly changes in their signs.
Jamriska said about 1,500 businesses were required to change their signs since the law, which was adopted in 1973, went into effect in 1983. Businesses were given 10 years to amortize the cost of changing their signs, and more than 99% of the illegal signs have now been removed, he said.
Zoning Administrator John McKenna rejected the thrift's request for a variance in March. His ruling was unanimously upheld in May by the Board of Zoning Adjustments.
When the thrift's request for a variance was denied by the appeals board, corporate leaders summoned city officials to a meeting.