It has been nearly a quarter century since Long Beach has updated its law governing on-premise signs, and staff members have worked for years on the comprehensive rewrite of the ordinance to be presented tonight, Thursday, to the Planning Commission.

This 30-page ordinance deals strictly with signs on the premises of businesses or business complexes. There is a separate ordinance for off-premise, or billboard, signs.

“We really tried to modernize a lot of the language,” Derek Burnham, city planning administrator, said. “A lot of it dates back to the 1970s. We wanted to deal with the quality of signs, and to create a path for more creative signs.”

That path is an entire new segment of the sign ordinance for a Creative Sign Permit. It replaces the sign standards waiver process that has been used to date to deal with nonconforming signs that made sense for a particular business or property.

“A lot of the signs downtown have had to go through the waiver process,” Burnham said. “There’s the vertical Promenade sign, and a lot of restaurant signs that are odd shapes.”

According to the draft ordinance, the idea is to encourage unique signs that “make a positive visual contribution to the overall image of the city.” Creative signs will have to pass muster at a site plan review committee.

Other major changes to the ordinance include prohibiting any new “cabinet” signs — signs with boxes listing individual businesses in a building or complex that are illuminated from the inside. Also banned are any new signs on top of bare poles. Getting signs in the air now will require some form of casing or artistic treatment for poles.

Balloons and other signs that are inflated or animated by air (think the flailing man-type balloons with blowers) also are prohibited in the new ordinance, and banner or temporary signs are more strictly regulated. Temporary signs in business windows are exempt from the code, but the limitation of 10% of the surface being covered is reinforced.

Burnham said that the new ordinance, once approved, would apply only to new signs. The only way to force removal of existing signs that no longer comply is to wait until a business or property changes hands. Any new signs would have to comply.

Because the sign code is an ordinance, it must be approved by the City Council as well as the Planning Commission. If the Planning Commission gives its blessing tonight, the law could be before the council in July.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 20 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 30 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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