Laguna Beach aims to firm up laws to regulate outdoor displays and portable signage littering the sidewalks of the downtown area, eventually adding fines for those businesses that run afoul of the regulations.

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An interim plan was implemented in January 2018 requiring businesses to obtain a permit in order to display anything outside of the storefront that is in the public right of way. The city found the excess signage to be a public health issue, capable of causing injury to pedestrians using the sidewalks. According to Greg Pfost, director of community development, the interim plan proved unsuccessful with only 13 businesses complying and 35-40 known violations for using sidewalk signs without a permit. Code enforcement officers gave warnings to violators and encouraged them to take steps to obtain a permit but no further follow up action was taken.

Councilmembers in September agreed to keep the interim program through December 2020, but with stricter follow up to the initial warning sent to violators, a measure they felt will hopefully prove to be more effective in ensuring compliance with the regulations, which was a concern for them.

“It’s just a question of fairness, if you’ve got people that follow the rules and those that don’t, the people who follow the rules end up feeling taken advantage of, so enforcement is a really important aspect of this,” said Councilmember Toni Iseman.

A boutique owner in downtown Laguna for over 18 years, Fetneh Blake expressed an awareness and understanding of the regulations on outdoor signage, though she never felt compelled to use any herself.

“Communities should have the right to determine just how much product and signage makes its way to the sidewalk in order to preserve aesthetics,” the business owner said.

Beginning in 2021, the city wants to have an easier application process in place. Violators will be issued the same warning, followed with a $100, $200 and $500 fine for each additional violation.

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