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L.A. threatens merchants with jail if they don't take down front window signs

July 13, 2010 |  8:06 am

Sign laws

Nearly two dozen merchants in a strip mall along Ventura Boulevard have been told to take down signs in their front windows -- or face possible jail time. The merchants are up in arms, saying it's unfair to make them remove the signs amid the economic downturn.

The merchants were served notices on July 7 from the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety Code Enforcement Bureau informing them that their signs were in violation of the Ventura-Cahuenga Boulevard Corridor Specific Plan. The ordinance regulates signs, displays and murals.

Enacted in February 1991, the ordinance prohibits window signs unless they state a store's name and hours of operation, or are security signs, logos or holiday paintings, which can only be up for a designated time period. The permitted signs may not occupy more than 10% of any window area.

Business owners were ordered to remove all signs from their store windows or face fines and possible jail time, according to merchants who received written notices. They were given 10 days to comply with the regulations.

"It's insane," said magician Brent Geris, owner of the Magic Apple store. "I was told every sign must be removed, even down to the Visa and MasterCard logo; even my 'open and closed' sign."

Geris said the code enforcement inspector who served the notice threatened him with a $400 fine and possible jail time for noncompliance.

But many merchants, some of whom have operated at the mall for almost two decades, said they were puzzled by the seemingly sudden push to enforce the sign regulations — which they said could harm their businesses.

"Can you imagine if all these signs come down?" Geris said. "It's going to look like we're out of business."

David L. Lara, a spokesman for the Department of Building and Safety, said a code enforcement inspector visited the strip mall after a complaint from an individual that one business was violating the sign regulations. When the inspector went to investigate the matter, he found other merchants were also in violation, Lara said.

"As a general rule, when we go out on a complaint and witness or find additional violations at a property, we have to cite them all, or we wind up in a situation where someone will say 'You're practicing selective enforcement, '" Lara said.

-- Ann M. Simmons

Photo: Francisco Gamero Jr., in doorway, says business has improved since his signs were added. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times