YUCCA VALLEY — Churches and nonprofit organizations in the town’s residential neighborhoods must follow specific rules governing their signs. Prompted by Joshua Springs Christian School’s request for an exemption from those rules, the planning commission will look at sign regulations in the coming months.
Commission Chairman Steven Whitten asked for permission to consider changes to the sign code in May when Joshua Springs pastor Jerel Hagerman asked to be allowed to install an electronic message board about four times larger than permitted.
While commissioners disagreed over the electronic sign, sending Hagerman back to revise his proposal, Whitten said it was past time to renovate the sign code.
“Someday in your free time, stand in front of Big Lots, look down that corridor and tell me what you see. It looks like you’re in a Third World nation almost,” he said at the May 8 meeting.
“I’m not trying to bag on the businesses in that area, but you’ve got every type of sign, flag, you name it. And that’s because we don’t have an updated sign code that our code enforcement can actually enforce. It’s out of date.”
Deputy Town Manager Shane Stueckle said as far as the code enforcement and planning staff is concerned, most of the sign code is working well.
“The sign code is never finished because the minute you adopt amendments, someone wants those amendments to be changed,” he said.
Still, in the last 10 years, planning staff can recall just five requests for variances; most were businesses that wanted larger signs than allowed.
“That tells staff that for the most part … the code is very effective,” Stueckle said.
“Does it need to be updated? Yes, we’ve had specific discussions about changes that need to be made,” Stueckle said.
“From staff’s perspective, do large electronic message boards belong in residential neighborhoods? No, from staff’s perspective, they do not,” he added. “That is the last place they belong.”
Commissioner John Terfehr agreed, saying that state law sets the conditions for granting a variance, and the electronic sign did not meet those conditions.
“If we approve this variance, we water down the code. And then our code has less meaning in all aspects,” Terfehr said. “It’s not just about signs; it’s about all of our codes. Do they mean anything or do we just override them when we feel like it?”
Whitten argued the church school should be allowed to install the sign because Joshua Springs will be a Red Cross center if there is a large earthquake or fire in the Basin.
“If Joshua Springs, regardless of their function, is thinking outside the box to benefit this community in event of catastrophic events, I think that’s a credit to that organization,” he said.
In the end, Hagerman said he would go back to the drawing board to see if he could modify his sign proposal, while Stueckle said he would tell the Town Council commissioners wanted permission to start a revision on at least part of the sign code.
The council agreed to allow the revision, at least for church and nonprofit signs — although Mayor Pro Tem Bob Lombardo signaled a willingness to look at changing the code to be more permissive for business signs, too.
“I want to express my concern for business owners in this town. I think signage is very important and I think it should be looked to,” Lombardo said
Mayor Rick Denison said he would like to see the commission address electronic signs like those proposed by Joshua Springs.
“When I moved to Yucca Valley years ago, the idea of an electronic sign was the one at Pomona First Federal and it told us the time and temperature,” he said.
“Times have changed a lot and we have an obligation to the residents and the community as a whole to look at these new technologies and find best ones that would fit in most appropriate areas.”
Drozd advised he thinks the commission should consider changes for churches, nonprofits and private schools. Public schools are not governed by town land-use rules.
The planning commission will begin its look at the sign code at a future date; it has not yet been placed on an agenda.