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County following up on community signs

On March 28 the San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved updates to the county’s Zoning Ordinance including provisions to allow for community identification signs over roads. On June 20 the county supervisors began a follow-up process which will authorize the placement of various community-related signs on county right-of-way.

The supervisors 5-0 vote June 20 directed the county’s Chief Administrative Officer to develop proposed amendments to board policies and ordinances necessary to authorize the placement of monument, gateway, community identification, and directional signs in county-maintained right-of-way and to report back to the supervisors in 120 days.

“It’s going to help communities in the unincorporated area identify themselves,” said Supervisor Dianne Jacob.

“It’s very positive. It’s been a long time coming,” said Fallbrook Village Association president Vince Ross. “The signs are going to help us connect to visitors and it’s going to help our businesses.”

Prior to March the Zoning Ordinance required community identification signs to be located on private property. The recent changes allow a community identification sign to be located over a road and also allow a larger sign area and increased height for such signs. The changes did not increase the limit on the number of signs or eliminate the site plan requirement and associated public review, and a sign over public right-of-way requires approval by the county’s Department of Public Works to ensure that the location, height, and design does not adversely affect public health, safety, or general welfare.

The changes in the Zoning Ordinance did not include any corresponding changes in Board of Supervisors policies. County policies and ordinances restrict signs in public right-of-way meant to identify communities, provide directional guidance to local points of interest, or designate the significance of historical artifacts or buildings. Some incorporated cities in San Diego County, as well as some other county governments, allow public right-of-way to be used for monument signs, banners, and other types of signs which help tourists and out-of-town guests find services and points of interest, and those signs can also enhance community character for residents.

“The pattern for good signage exists in many other counties,” Ross said.

In recent months representatives of several communities in unincorporated San Diego County have sought changes to use county right-of-way for signage which would identify and distinguish their communities to visitors and neighbors, establish a sense of community character, or provide information to visitors about points of interest or commercial districts.

“We need to see those signage regulations changed,” said Supervisor Bill Horn.

The county staff activity will include researching ordinances of other jurisdictions while ensuring that the revised ordinance is not at the expense of safety for motorists, pedestrians, or bicyclists. The process will also include a Planning Commission public hearing. The county’s Department of Planning and Land Use oversees zoning matters while the Department of Public Works is responsible for county right-of-way in roads, and the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation is a possible beneficiary of a relaxed ordinance.

“I expect that the staff will continue to work with interested communities,” Jacob said.

“They still have more work to be done,” Ross said.

Five years ago the Fallbrook Village Association created a signage master plan. “It’s unfinished business. I think a lot of the design efforts that were used in that can be used again,” Ross said.

Ross noted that plans exist for community identification signs over East Mission Road west of Interstate 15 and over South Mission Road. He added that the Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce has also expressed interest in a more permissive sign ordinance. “I think it’s exciting,” he said.

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