April 16, 2013
Tim Dewar, email@example.com
Allen Quigg has made a life out of making signs. His work is on display throughout the Ojai Valley and he claims to have produced more than 250 in the Ojai Valley alone.
But his 45 years as a signmaker have done little to help him navigate the “bureaucratic larceny” he said occurs in the city of Ojai’s Building and Planning divisions.
Quigg, the owner of Woodcrafter Signs in Ventura, has been honored by the city in the past for his signs. He was hired recently by Bamboo Creek Spa owner Alice Liu to produce a sign for her business at 1002 E. Ojai Ave. After he created the sign and hung it on the building, Liu received a call from the city saying the sign did not conform to the Comprehensive Sign Program (CSP) for that building.
The city requires that buildings with three or more tenants have a CSP. A CSP outlines the guidelines a tenant must follow if they want to hang a sign without getting a permit.
“They (CSPs) are all specific to a property,” said Ojai’s community development director Rob Mullane. “Some are detailed and some are vague. The older the sign program, the more vague they are and the more need for interpretation. The newer ones are very detailed.”
When Quigg contacted Mullane about the notice, he was told the sign would have to come down or that Liu would have to apply for a request to modify the CSP if she wanted to keep a graphic element — bamboo stalks — on the sign.
“He (Quigg) basically explained rather strongly that the sign was exempt,” Mullane noted. “I told him I had reviewed the project and it was my determination that the sign is not consistent with the CSP.”
Mullane added that the CSP for this building does not address the issue of graphics. “I haven’t done many of these for the city, it is something I am still getting used to and understand in terms of how they work, but elsewhere in the zoning code if something is covered, it is allowed, if it is not covered, it’s not allowed,” he noted.
He said he told Quigg removing the graphic element was all that was needed to make the sign conform to the CSP. “Since he had already installed the sign, I thought this might be the easiest solution.”
But easy isn’t Quigg’s style. He said he went to the city to talk with Mullane, but said he was greeted less than enthusiastically.
“Why had I, on several prior occasions, been allowed a valid, approved sign permit if the CSP did not allow that?” Quigg asked. “A staff member clarified that mystery for me in the presence of the director as the three of us were standing at the planning counter. The reason they were approved, they said, was because I am so difficult to deal with that the permits were approved just to get rid of me.”
Mullane doesn’t recall that happening and explained that if anyone on staff did say something like that it would likely have been in jest.
“I would say that I have seen Mr. Quigg at the counter and he is stubborn. He fights for what he believes to be the case in a confrontational way. It makes me uncomfortable that my staff is put in a position where someone is raising their voice. One thing he has difficulty with is restrictions to his creativity.”
The cost to request a revision to a CSP is $90, and under the city’s cost recovery system, a deposit of $1,200 is also required. More complicated requests can cost more. If staff costs do not exceed the deposit amount, the balance is refunded to the applicant. If costs exceed the deposit, the applicant must pay the additional cost.
The deposit for a new sign permit is $1,500.
Mullane noted that Quigg was quite upset with the cost to appeal. “Those permit costs are set by council and reviewed every year. I do have discretion and I often decrease the amount of a deposit if I think something is very simple and won’t involve a lot of staff time. In fact, I offered that to the owner of the business. We would only charge an $800 deposit and the $90 administrative fee. The deposit is there so the city can fully recover staff costs to prepare and bring the request to the decision makers.”
Mullane said he intends to ask the Planning Commission to weigh in on a modification to the CSP program fees. They could recommend that Council leave it as-is, reduce the cost or they could make it a set fee, not deposit-based.
Because Quigg is not the only applicant struggling to come to an agreement with city staff over the complex — and often contradictory — zoning ordinances and building codes, (the Ojai Valley News will profile others in the near future) Ojai Mayor Paul Blatz announced last week that he will propose considerable changes to the way some permits are handled.
While the changes must be approved by the City Council, Blatz envisions that projects that allow for discretionary approval by city staff — where the applicant and staff disagree on the interpretation of the code or when Mullane recommends denying the project — would be referred to Ojai city manager Rob Clark. If Clark approves the project, it could move forward. If the city manager agrees with the community development director, it would then go to the mayor and the mayor pro-tem to review. If both agree to grant approval, the project moves forward. If one or both recommend denial, then the applicant could pay the permit fee and deposit to follow the normal appeals process.
As for Quigg, he said he plans to continue to push for more changes in the city. “It’s criminal the way they treat people and that has to change.”