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Holiday lights, old building relief among zoning changes

The County of San Diego’s most recent cleanup of its Zoning Ordinance will place a 60-day annual limit on holiday lights and will eliminate a requirement that unreinforced masonry buildings built prior to earthquake standards be brought into compliance or torn down.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the first reading and introduction of the ordinance amendments February 25 before unanimously approving the second reading and adoption March 4. The changes will take effect April 3.

For the most part the changes were clean-ups which affected language or placement. “We were looking to remove duplicative or unnecessary chapters in the county code,” said Darren Gretler, the chief of the building division for the county’s Department of Planning and Land Use. “There’s no reason to have it in two places.”

Other updates added definitions or section purpose statements.

The changes also add awnings to the building permit requirements for marquees and permanent signs. The previous ordinance language prevented a sign, marquee, or awning from overhanging any portion of a street unless a concrete curb extended the full length of the property; the new language prohibits overhanging any portion of a road right-of-way without both a concrete curb and a 10-foot parkway adjacent to the property. Any sign, marquee, or awning which interferes with a traveler’s vision is also prohibited and words which could be mistaken for traffic directions are also not allowed.

The light pollution chapter adds a definition of “holiday decoration,” describing it as an outdoor luminaire used only for temporary decorative purposes to celebrate a specific holiday. The definition of luminaire was also created to specify a complete lighting unit including the lamp, fixture, and other parts. Another new definition describes an “on premises advertising sign” as a sign located on the premises of a facility open to the public which advertises the facility’s name, product or service, hours of operation, or other information related to the facility.

Holiday decorations had previously been exempt from lighting requirements but had not been defined or limited by the ordinance. Under the new language holiday decorations are exempt provided that they are used for no more than 60 days in a 12-month period (if Thanksgiving falls on the earliest possible date, November 22, holiday lights operating between the day after Thanksgiving and the twelfth day of Christmas January 6 would be used for 45 days) and that the lights are off between 11:00 p.m. and sunrise.

The 60-day stipulation for holiday lights does not specify any particular time of year. “This allows flexibility for whatever holiday anyone wants to enjoy,” Gretler said.

The term “use” allows holiday lights to be in place for more than 60 days in a 12-month period if they are not turned on.

The light pollution section also exempts a facility required by state or Federal law to have non-compliant outdoor lighting, although proof of such an exemption must be included when an electrical permit application is submitted.

The temporary exemption portion of the light pollution section now limits such exemptions to community or other events where the public benefit outweighs any harm which might occur to other parties and to emergency situations beyond the control of the exemption applicant.

The chapter on road right-of-way and setback requirements adds a triangular setback area for corner lots in order to preserve sight distance and potential road right-of-way improvements. The setback area is based on a 20-feet measurement from the intersection.

The chapter covering mitigation of earthquake-vulnerable buildings addresses unreinforced masonry buildings constructed prior to October 22, 1946. The changes add an exemption for a building which qualifies as historical property and also add an exemption for buildings owned by the state or Federal government. The previous exemptions, which will be retained, covered buildings with five or fewer residential units and structures such as warehouses which are not used for human habitation (except for those housing emergency services equipment or supplies).

Four of those unreinforced masonry buildings are in Fallbrook. The construction date of the building at 125 South Main Avenue is unknown. The building at 131 Beech Street was erected in 1888, the 109-113 North Main Avenue structure was built in 1904, and the 101-105 South Main Avenue building was constructed in 1928.

Under the old ordinance language, a building which does not meet minimum earthquake standards had to be structurally altered to conform to such standards or had to be demolished. The new language recommends the consideration of demolition but does not require a building to be demolished if structural improvements are not undertaken. Under the new version of the ordinance, a notice about potential hazards will be sent to the building owner every three years until the building is brought to current standards or demolished.

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