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Huntington Beach upholds ban on sign spinners

The economic decline isn't enough to persuade city officials to allow the ad twirlers, who they maintain are distracting to drivers.

February 06, 2009|Susannah Rosenblatt

Don't even think about hawking sub sandwiches or mattresses on a corner in Huntington Beach.

The economic free fall wasn't enough to persuade Surf City officials to allow those ubiquitous sign spinners onto their sidewalks. The twirlers, many equipped with flashy moves or costumes, are just too distracting to drivers, officials decreed this week.

Although a host of communities in California and beyond have prohibited sign holders in recent years, plunging sales and climbing unemployment spurred the Huntington Beach Planning Commission to revisit the ban.

"I just think it's unfair to pick out some businesses and say the kinds of signs they depend upon are illegal," said Joe Shaw, a former planning commissioner who voted to overturn the ban before he left the panel. "Especially in this economy, if they bring people to a business where they can spend money, all the better."

Though planning commissioners in December supported allowing the sign spinners, City Council members weren't convinced: They voted 5 to 2 on Monday to streamline Huntington's sign ordinance and to continue keeping ad spinners out.

"The signs are just getting larger and almost more obnoxious," said Councilman Don Hansen, who voted to uphold the ban. He described sign twirlers as "a form of visual blight."

Huntington Beach isn't the only Southern California city to consider sign wavers tacky. So-called human directionals have been outlawed in Fountain Valley, Irvine, La Habra, Lake Forest, Riverside and El Cajon, among other places. Tustin allows the sign holders under strict guidelines, including the mandate that "human signs shall not spin, twirl, swing or gyrate."

In some cases, sign-twirling companies have fought back, saying that the bans are unconstitutional. Such legal scuffles helped bring dancing condo advertisements back to Palmdale and Sacramento after initial resistance, said Mike McCullough, vice president of sales and marketing for EyeShot, a Lake Forest-based human directional company.

With the housing market on the skids and builders' marketing budgets shrinking, the sign spinning business itself is down: Residential advertisements were once the industry's "bread and butter," McCullough said.

Recently, smaller retailers have been contacting the company, exploring ways to drum up business. Still, downturn or not, don't expect grooving gorilla suits or waving Lady Libertys in Huntington Beach any time soon.

"I hope we're not leveraging our hope of economic growth on the backs of the sign-twirling industry," Hansen said. "I don't think that's our way out; I don't think that's the job that most folks are pinning their hopes on."

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susannah.rosenblatt@latimes.com

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