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Publication Date: Friday, August 24, 2001

City hears earful on signage City hears earful on signage (August 24, 2001)

Business owners complain about restrictions

By Justin Scheck


With the city ready to start enforcing its downtown signage guidelines, a group of about 20 business owners met with city officials Tuesday to discuss what the enforcement will mean for businesses.

According to City Attorney Michael Martello, the city's downtown signage guidelines have been on the books for at least ten years, but have not been enforced. City discussions over the past two years to refine the guidelines to allow for enforcement got little input from downtown business owners, although they were invited to participate, Council member Rosemary Stasek said.

But now that the enforcement efforts are set to begin, the city is hearing complaints from owners who say the guidelines are overly restrictive and may affect businesses in the current economic downturn.

At the Tuesday meeting, city officials described a vision for downtown that will give Castro Street a more consistent-looking fašade with few window signs and an emphasis on aesthetic refinement.

Stasek and Ellis Berns, the city's economic development director, spoke of how downtown Mountain View must compete with surrounding downtowns for customer dollars. They pointed to Sunnyvale's downtown redevelopment, and the business centers of Los Gatos and Saratoga, as potential competitors.

But businesspeople at the meeting took issue with this approach.

Greg Bradshaw, general manager of Red Rock Coffee Company on Castro Street, said he feels the signage restrictions put unneeded pressure on businesses to conform to narrow and subjective aesthetic principles. Bradshaw said he tried to get involved in the city's process of defining the guidelines, but felt the city did not take business owners' concerns into account. He said he attended numerous downtown committee meetings to discuss the signage restrictions, only to feel as if he was "treated like an eight-year-old."

"At those meetings, when I had questions about the sizes of signs and all that, they kept coming back to 'when this passes,' not 'if,'" he said.

Bradshaw said he feels that businesses are disenfranchised from the city's process of trying to improve downtown, but there is little they can do because the sign restrictions are already set down as law. He also questioned whether the members of the downtown committee truly represent downtown businesses' best interests.

"It's very frustrating when I hear [Bradshaw] saying, 'Who is this committee, and who are they to make these rules?' I want to say, 'You are the committee,'" said Stasek. She added that businesses are represented by Karen Cabello, the director of the Central Business Association (CBA), and that there has been a vacant seat for a business owner on the downtown committee for over a year, but no owner has volunteered for the position.

Nick Chaput, owner of the Dana Street Roasting Company and vice president of the CBA, said he is glad the city and business owners finally met face to face, but he still sees problems.

"Communication is sorely lacking, and it comes from both sides," he said. "Businesses haven't paid attention to [downtown improvements] because over the last ten years nothing has impacted them in these ways."

But he added that, even though the city gave notice to business owners about the signage meetings, the lack of business-owner attendance should have let them know that more outreach was necessary.

Stasek said she sees the enforcement of the sign rules as important to the greater development of downtown. "Now that (the city's) improvements are done, and the downtown is really ready to bloom... the time has come that these things are going to be enforced."

But Stasek acknowledged that "there is no way to do this without some people feeling they've been put in a bad position."

Chaput said he understands the city's goals, but hopes to see things done in a way that is less threatening to businesses.

"I know they want to make these changes, but as difficult as it is to specialize these things, it almost has to be done on a per-business basis," he said.

Chaput and Bradshaw both said that Mountain View might not be ready to have a downtown full of businesses like those in Los Gatos or Menlo Park.

"If every place was Vivaca or Banana Republic or Abercrombie and Fitch, this area would be a ghost town," said Chaput.

Bradshaw said, "This basically has kicked me in the butt and made me say, 'Why can't I run for city council?'"


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