In its ongoing efforts to prevent and reduce blight, the city of Napa is refocusing its efforts on illegal signs.

Prompted by City Council members who raised the issue at their January workshop, the city’s code enforcement division will hone in on businesses displaying signs that haven’t been given the OK by way of permit, officials said.

“There has been a pretty strong buildup of these unapproved signs,” said Rick Tooker, director of the Community Development Department, which oversees code enforcement.

Tooker said the city takes enforcement action on about 800 signs each year, but he expects that number to grow in 2013. In the past, the city specifically addressed illegal A-frame signs downtown, then moved on to signs located near roadways. Now, code enforcement will target any signs that aren’t backed up by a city-issued permit, including banners on fences and buildings.

“This year, the council brought the issue up and said, ‘If we’re trying to up the quality and really make Napa a destination, how can we do that while turning a blind eye to all the banners, wind socks, flags and A-frames?’” Tooker said.

To date, when city code enforcement officers learned of an unauthorized sign — either from resident complaints, from volunteers or through their own efforts — they issued a compliance order warning businesses to remove the offending sign or face a fine, Tooker said.

As part of its new effort to gain broader compliance, the city will spend more time educating violators and potential violators. Staff is working on a form letter that can be sent to businesses to inform them of the city code that prevents such signs without a permit.

“It informs them before being heavy-handed,” Tooker said. “The first contact should be communicative and educative. It’s a better approach than a heavy-handed bureaucratic approach.”

If signs don’t come down after receipt of the letter, the city will send a compliance order, followed by a citation if the sign still remains in place, Tooker said. Citations can be around $100 per violation.

Temporary sign permits are issued over the counter from the city for a fee of $20 per application, Tooker said. Annually, between 25 and 30 are issued, though Tooker estimated there are more than 1,000 temporary signs citywide.

“These banners are installed and often are never removed, creating blight in many cases and a competitive disadvantage to businesses who follow the regulations,” Tooker wrote in an email. “Part of the approach is simply informing businesses of the need to obtain a sign permit for the special event temporary signs.”

Code Enforcement Officer Jane Hamer said it’s hard to quantify how much time she spends combating illegal signage, but it’s a lot. She does regular sweeps of major thoroughfares and addresses issues as she’s going about other code enforcement work, Hamer said. Of the city’s two code enforcement officers, only Hamer is dedicated to the task full-time; the second officer’s time is split between code enforcement and other duties.

“We’re trying to prohibit blight,” Hamer said, explaining that when one person or business erects a sign, multiple others are quick to follow, polluting the visual landscape. “We’re trying to have a city that looks really good, that isn’t cluttered and doesn’t have signs everywhere. You go to some cities and you can barely find the front door of a business because it’s covered in so many signs. That’s not an image we want to project.”

Hamer and Tooker both said the city is not against businesses having signs and promoting themselves, but signs need to be erected in a way that abides by the municipal code. When meeting with businesses about the issue, the city said it offers suggestions on how to send a message, without breaking the law or overwhelming people with too much information.

“If you’re going to put a sign up on your property, whether it’s a free-standing monument sign, a sign on the building or a special-event banner, you have to go through the Planning Department and get a permit,” Hamer said. “We really want the business owners to know what the code is and we want them to save time and money.”

Hamer encouraged any business owners considering a temporary sign to first contact the city and find out the parameters of the ordinance, so they doesn’t buy a costly banner that soon has to be removed.

(10) comments

napaweber

The Napa City Code Enforcement is just Discriminating against and going after Small Business and making things more difficult to own a business in Napa. Code Enforcement has not done anything about the Illegal signage all up and down Soscol Ave. Car Dealerships still have tons of Illegal signage out on Soscol and the City does nothing about that

garretth37

I wouldn't mind a little control of signs, other then that don't have a problem with well placed neat looking signs. Maybe allow 1 free sign, after that you pay extra. I don't think our tourist really care about signs selling pizza or a tune up.

NapaGuy2

No mention of garage sale signs! Mr. Tooker previously stated that they were not fining people who put up and leave these ugly signs for the rest of us to view. Typical soft headed bureaucratic thinking! Let's pay a city employee to clean up after garage sale sign violators. Maybe city employees cannot figure out who put up the sign even though it has the address of the garage sale.

Old Time Napkin

I see several comments here about spending more time catching real criminals. That's the job of trained police officers. Code Enforcement people are not trained officers with the power of arrest. They only enforce municipal code violations and use citations to get people to court.
Frankly I'm glad they are doing something about illegal signs. What I didn't see in the article is the enforcement of illegal "garage sale " signs. I'm tired of seeing these signs attached to PGE/telephone poles and posted on other public property. Not only do they look bad the people never take them down after the sale. They contribute to the roadside trash when the wind comes along an blows them off the poles , etc. They also need to concentrate on the illegal street vendors who are at the intersections selling oranges, etc. .

Straight Talk

Glen Roy... your rants continue to be off message. It's both humorous and... a little sad.

Good job council and city staff. Improve our city, more guests, better for residents, more TOT and sales tax revenue, higher property values, level playing field for businesses.... yeah Glen Roy, that's just terrible! How could the city do such a horrible thing??? Why, next thing you know, they'll be planting trees and creating some kind of skate park for our kids!

Stop the madness!

glenroy
glenroy

Code enforcement is incompetence in the City...having recently dealt with both the county is FAR more competently managed...but that can be fixed too I suppose.
But let’s be real…this isn’t about destination appearance, this is about the destiny of their retirement benefits…out of cash have several departments are stuffed with staff with little to do so... finding people and businesses to fine is what these ‘public servants’ have in mind, and have been doing. The city’s share of the estimated trillion dollar underfunded public employee retire funds hangs over their heads so code enforcement was added to increase taxation through fines..too add net revenue…not for visitors, not to beautify Napa….to raise more in fines than their salaries and benefits.
It’s the way it works these days…think about all those in administrative positions knocking down better than $200 gran wondering what to do next…instead of reducing waste they'll increase it.

napa1957

I hope you will grant non-profits leeway in both cost and duration of any temporary signs they need to hang. When traveling, I enjoy seeing banners for the local pancake breadfast supporting non-profit xyz, or signups for youth sports. It's one of the things that makes a town a real hometown. Heart shaped pizza, not so much!

jackofalltrades

Agreed... How about do something about the rampant drinking and drug use in down town...all around the Methodist church...talk about blight...

sunburst

jackofalltrades agreed! This area of town is out of control. This is an issue that clearly needs to be addressed, for businesses right within the area, as well as those that simply drive down Third street. Once again Napa's priority list is upside down...

Ronco99

Signs? Really? Go after violent criminals!

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