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Monday, December 17 , 2018, 2:27 am | Overcast 54º


Ron Fink: Saving Lompoc’s Iconic ‘Hi! Let’s Eat’ Sign

Several decades ago, the Hi! Let’s Eat restaurant was a popular diner on East Ocean Avenue and E Street, near Lompoc City Hall and the county office complex, making it a near-daily destination for hungry customers.

The restaurant featured a prominent sign on a pole at the corner to advertise the business. At some point in its life, the sign's lettering was illuminated. However, when the lighting failed, it probably was too costly to repair, so today only the painted lettering remains.

Judges, lawyers, city and county officials, farmers, ranchers and business people all graced the booths and stools.

Deals were made and lively discussion of the events of the day punctuated the conversation over heaping plates of ham and eggs, burgers and fries, and of course the cook's special served by sharp-witted waitresses.

Later “Hi’s” was replaced by another restaurant, the Jalama Beach Café, and the iconic Hi Let’s Eat sign remained as a pointer to tasty food.

On March 8, the Planning Commission approved a request by Starbucks coffee to build a drive-through location on the site, but the sign didn’t fit into the store's plans and Starbucks intended to remove it.

Members of the community and Planning Commission were concerned the sign would be destroyed, and since it didn’t meet the requirements for a listing in the California Register of Historical Resources, it couldn’t legally be protected in place.

This was a legitimate community concern in search of a solution.

But, in another action, taken several months earlier, the council directed the Planning Commission to address the Sign Ordinance as a priority in the multi-year process of updating the city’s Zoning Ordinance.

This decision was not without controversy from special interests who felt their industry-specific issue was more important.

But, the council thought the sign ordinance would impact the entire business community, so several public meetings were held and, ultimately, the council adopted the new ordinance.

New provisions of the updated ordinance allowed the Planning Commission to establish a Landmark Sign designation to preserve the city’s iconic signs. The Hi! Let’s Eat sign seemed to fit into this category.

So, based on a staff recommendation, the Planning Commission established a condition of approval for the Starbucks project that specified the sign would be donated to the Lompoc Valley Historical Society or another willing historical custodian located in Lompoc.

I have been a planning commissioner for many years; rarely does the commission have an opportunity to see quick results on most of the decisions we make.

The hardest part of the job is trying to figure out whether a new or modified policy will work in daily practice; with the sign ordinance, we experienced near immediate positive results.

Following the March 8 meeting, the planning staff met with the president of the LVHS and the Lompoc Theater Project to discuss the possibility of having the sign declared a Landmark Sign. In the meantime, two eateries in the Old Town expressed a willingness to display the sign.

The planning staff moved at Mach speed, coordinating with the LVHS and Starbuck’s Corp. to work out a deal. Even though there were a lot people involved in this deal, just 30 days later the staff provided a solution to the commission.

At an April 12 public hearing, staff reported that after a review of the existing sign's age, input from the Lompoc community at the Starbucks drive-thrrough public hearing (including LVHS), and a previously completed historical assessment of the sign, the Hi! Let’s Eat sign met all criteria for landmark status.

After a brief discussion, the Planning Commission agreed unanimously with the staff recommendation.

I have been involved in city government for more than 25 years and I have never witnessed a complicated community concern being resolved this quickly.

The Herculean efforts of the city staff to solve this problem cannot be overstated. The agreement by the LVHS and other members of the business community to accept and refurbish the sign was the clincher.

I am sure it will cost a considerable sum to refurbish this sign. Contact the Lompoc Valley Historical Society, PO Box 88, Lompoc, CA 93438; phone 735-4626; or visit www.lompochistory.org to find out how you can help.

— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry and has been active with Lompoc municipal government commissions and committee since 1992, including 12 years on the Lompoc Planning Commission. He is also a voting member of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association. Contact him at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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