July 24th, 2007

Writing on the Wall for Ad Sign Wavers?

By Judy O'Rourke
L.A. Daily News

The city will crack down on sign twirlers who advertise everything from Hondas to ice cream from the walkways because they’re in the city right-of-way.

The popular nationwide phenomenon often features agile performers who defy passers-by to ignore them. Complaints apparently triggered the move.

“We’re working on setting up enforcement, getting in touch with business owners,” said Curtis Williams, the city’s senior community preservation officer. “We’ll let them know they can’t be in the city’s right-of-way - it’s no different than putting a sign on the sidewalk.”

Typically, off-site signs are prohibited, he said.

A pair of sign handlers promoting a restaurant food delivery company stood cater-cornered Monday at the high-traffic nexus of McBean Parkway and Valencia Boulevard.

The company delivers food from three dozen restaurants - even an ice cream parlor - and is relying on the tactic to drum up business for its Web site.

Courtney Wilson, the company’s owner, said the signs are just temporary and the issue reaches beyond the street corner.

“It’s about freedom of speech,” she said. “You don’t need a permit to stand on the corner and say you’re anti-war.

The group of people who do that are much more distracting to drivers than those who hold the signs.”

That may be, but the city attorney said the First Amendment protects religious and political speech on public property, but not ad spinners.

“Commercial speech is not protected by the First Amendment; it is subject to regulations,” said City Attorney Carl Newton. “There is an existing limitation on advertising from the public right-of-way.”

Brian Tripp, who relies on nimble spinners to promote his job placement firm, said the city would have a hard time enforcing a ban on the human holders.

“I think it would be years in court before they could enforce it,” Tripp said. On weekends, Tripp stations five people at key intersections all over the city, and parks his four billboard vans all over town.

Wilson’s “awareness campaign” moves Friday nights to McBean and Town Center Drive, where throngs are drawn for an open-air music show. She declined to say how many clients the signs net, but did say they’re effective.

Roughly 85,000 vehicles pass by McBean and Valencia each day, 76,000 drive by Magic Mountain Parkway and 68,000 pass by Newhall Ranch Road daily, said Gus Pivetti, a senior traffic engineer for the city.

Sign wavers stationed at McBean Parkway and the corners of Magic Mountain Parkway and Creekside Road on Monday hawked savings on laser treatments at a nearby treatment center. The business did not return a call seeking comment. Another twirler snagged customers for a carwash across from the mall entrance on McBean, where cars jammed the bays.

Twirlers say they earn between $10 and $15 an hour.

Wilson said she did due diligence to avoid cutting into her advertising dollar with fines. She says she was told by the city no permits are required.

Curtis Williams, the city’s enforcement guru, agreed that a permit is not required, but right-of-way encroachment is the problem and businesses cannot use the city’s property to advertise their wares.

Temporary campaign signs are permitted and real estate signs are OK if they comply with height and size requirements.

Last year the city cracked down on business owners who - after a nine-year grace period - continued to violate the city’s 1990 sign ordinance.

Hundreds of companies retooled their signs, but with the court’s approval the city toppled a 39-foot-tall lighted sign at The Santa Clarita Athletic Club and passed the bill on to the club’s owner.

Williams said he hopes business owners voluntarily comply with the ban on twirlers on street corners. 

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