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U-Haul's illegally tall sign on West Capitol Avenue. The company says it needs a tall sign so truck renters can safely spot the entrance, and return a vehicle. (News-Ledger file photo)

From the News-Ledger
Aug. 24, 2011

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

    And then there was one: A U-Haul sign is the last illegally tall business sign on West Capitol Avenue, according to the city’s code enforcement officer, and the company may be squaring off for a legal fight with the city to keep it.

  The West Sacramento City Council in the late ‘90s adopted a sign ordinance designed to reduce “visual blight” from the strip’s jumble of pole signs. It allowed local businesses ten years to come into compliance before the ordinance took effect in 2008. Most did, said Larry Brooks, Code Enforcement Officer. That’s largely why the strip is home to many 12-foot-and-under monument signs, where it used to sport a bunch of pole signs competing for height.

  Gone are the skyscraping signs for King’s Restaurant and the “whirlybird” sign on stilts for Safeway, as well as pole signs for a number of motels and other businesses. Most of the signs were aging relics of the 1950s and ‘60s.

  “All the other businesses agreed to take down their pole signs and put up monument signs to comply,” said Brooks. “U-Haul has just always maintained it just could not come into compliance like all other businesses. Their argument is that customers need to see that sign in order to know where to turn when returning a rental vehicle. If they miss it, they would have to do a u-turn, increasing the possibility of an accident.”

  Brooks said his staff has tried to test that theory.

  “We got into a big truck and came down West Capitol Avenue from both directions, and spotted the sign. . . It is our contention that the (current) sign cannot be seen by most drivers anyway, because of the tree canopy. In this day and age of smart phones and GPS, drivers already know which way to turn.”

  He argued that, partly because of trees in the median, a shorter sign would actually have better visibility for U-Haul. And Brooks added that allowing U-Haul to be an exception to the city ordinance wouldn’t be fair to all the businesses that complied with the law. The city held workshops with businesses just before the ordinance took effect, explaining how to comply.

  “My hat is off to all the businesses that said ‘we are willing to comply as long as everyone else does,’” said Brooks. “U-Haul basically came to that workshop saying ‘we’re going to lawyer up against you.’”

  Staff from the city and from U-Haul have talked and negotiated, but to no avail. The city has filed notice of a code enforcement violation, and the company has appealed. There will be a public hearing for the appeal at 2:30 p.m. on Aug. 31 in the city council chambers.

  U-Haul didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

  Joanne Fried, director of marketing for the corporation in Phoenix, told the News-Ledger in 2009 that the company would try negotiating a solution.

  “We’ve had amicable discussions with the city on what to do, and are deciding what to do,” Fried said two years ago.

  With the notice of code violation, negotiations are apparently over.

  The company has fought zoning restrictions in a number of other cities.

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