Friday, February 23 , 2018, 2:22 pm | Fair 60º


Local News


Santa Barbara Committee to Consider Sign Policy Changes

Some dramatic changes could be coming to the way Santa Barbara regulates signs displayed by businesses, nonprofits and others following a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision citing First Amendment rights.

The Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday unanimously voted to appoint an 11-person "sign ordinance review committee" to determine whether the city complies with a ruling that questions whether officials can discriminate against the content of a sign’s message.

In a June decision, the Supreme Court said the city of Gilbert outside Phoenix, Arizona, violated a church group’s freedom of speech rights by making it adhere to “content-based” sign regulations.

The temporary signs in question advertised church-related meetings.

By those standards, parts of Santa Barbara’s existing sign ordinance would also be unconstitutional.

“I’m not saying by any means that you can’t regulate signs anymore,” City Attorney Ariel Calonne said. “In my view, we need to take a look at the sign ordinance and try and update it to match what the court says.”

It’ll take at least a year for the review committee to come up with recommendations that would be forwarded to the ordinance committee and then the full council.

Calonne contended Santa Barbara’s sign ordinance aligns with that of hundreds of cities, enforcing stricter rules for temporary signs that direct the public to nonprofit group events than for other messages.

The Supreme Court decreed that by categorizing sign regulations by message — temporary, political or ideological — the town was discriminating on the basis of content, regardless of motive or the fact that the rules applied to everyone.

In Santa Barbara, regulations distinguish between construction signs, election signs, real estate signs, open house signs and more. Rules establish different size, location and timing criteria for each.

New sign regulations would not refer to the content of the sign to establish different regulatory requirements, unless a compelling government interest like traffic safety could be established, Calonne said.

He confirmed the city itself might have some signs that need to be changed.

“Signs are — in many instances — the lifeblood of businesses,” Calonne said.

Councilmen Frank Hotchkiss and Gregg Hart volunteered to sit on the committee and are set to bring recommendations for nine other members to a future council meeting.

The rest of the committee will include one sign committee member, one Architectural Board of Review member, one Historic Landmarks Commission member, one planning commissioner, one Chamber of Commerce representative, one Santa Barbara Association of Realtors representative, two at-large residential community members, and one news media representative or First Amendment advocate.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >