More than 30 14-foot tall advertising "feather" banners, used by some businesses in Oakhurst to get the attention of the buying public, are in violation of the Oakhurst Sign Ordinance.
An on-line description of the "feather," "blade," or "teardrop" flag, as they are called, states they "are one of the most effective ways of attracting foot traffic into your establishment" and "will help your business ride above the crowd."
But the promotional pitch does not impress Oakhurst architect Patrice Jensen, who was on the committee that wrote Oakhurst Sign Ordinance that went into effect December 2008.
"Even when there was only a few of these banner signs along Highway 41, I disliked the look of them," Jensen said. "They are just stuck in the ground at different angles and when the wind comes up, they sometimes lean into the sidewalk."
Jensen said she understands that times are hard for businesses, but the fact remains that the sign ordinance prohibits any advertising cloth, plastic or paper signs meant to attract business, and also questions how much good they can do for a business.
"Do generic 14-foot tall "gas," "beer," and ""cigarette" signs really increase their business? At what cost to the look of the community," Jensen said.
"Now we have "pizza," "reward points," "tattoos," "propane," "free Wi-fi," "breakfast," "smoke," "cocktails," "beauty salon," "furniture," "brakes," "auto repair" and "smog check," Jensen said.
"As one of the citizens on the original sign ordinance committee, I wanted to report the infractions of the ordinance to the county who is responsible for enforcing the ordinance," Jensen said. "Due to the reduction of county employees, any enforcement is done on a compliant basis, so due to the economy, I though we could wait until the economy gets better."
Jensen said that now, unfortunately, someone has gone to the extreme of putting five or six signs with large lettering to make a portion of Highway 41 look like Blackstone Avenue in Fresno.
Sidewalk A-frame 'sandwich' signs are also illegal in Oakhurst although they are continuously used to promote businesses and special events. The south-east corner of Highway 41 and Crane Valley Road (426) in front of Rite Aid is a popular area for A-frame signs and hanging banners.
The wrought iron fence surrounding the vacant property on the south-west corner of Highways 41 and 49 is often used for promotional banners and signs, even though they are not permitted.
"The ordinance was written in such a way that with the reduced speed at which everyone drives through town, they would be able to see signage at eye level," Jensen explained. "Now we have a confusion of banners, A-frame signs and feather signs to look through. How can we solve this? hopefully without county enforcement or do we all take on some responsibility and all call the County enforcement officer? How do you want this town to look?"
The "feather" banners are not just in Oakhurst -- They have flooded may Valley towns including the city of Madera.
Jim Taubert, who enforces the sign code for the city of Madera, has called the banners the "new graffiti" in Madera.
"It started out with five or six around town and spread from there," Taubert said. "Its was out of control."
Taubert put about 70 business owners on notice that the signs were illegal and should be taken down a.s.a.p. about six weeks ago. Taubert told business owners that after the courtesy notice, violation notices would be given with fines starting at $50 a day, or up to $500 a day for the third offense.
Taubert reported that after his notice was sent, 95% of the feather banners have come down.
According to Taubert, the feather signs coast about $100. In Madera, the majority of the banners came from a person going around town selling the banners out of his van.
Matt Treber, Madera County senior planner and code enforcement supervisor, said the county is not a pro-active code enforcement county.
"We are strictly a public complaint department," Treber said. "When a complaint is filed to us from a member of public, we will investigate the complaint. If we in fact find a business out of compliance with the sign ordinance, we would issue a 30 day courtesy notice of violation. If the business does not comply with the ordnance at the end of the 30 days, the business can be fined up to $250 per day until the illegal signs are taken down."
Treber said the complaint system is the same for A-frame sandwich boards, exterior hanging banners and the more recent "feather" banners.
According to Treber, as of Monday, the county planning department has not received any complaints from the Oakhurst area about the non-compliant "feather" banners, A-frame sandwich boards or banners hanging on buildings or fences.
The Oakhurst sign Ordinance was drafted to "protect property values and the natural scenic beauty of the area." Businesses had a 15-year amortization period to replace or modify signs prior to the Dec. 3, 2008, deadline.
By August 2009, 93 of 100 businesses in Oakhurst had complied with the "height" portion of the ordinance. Since that time, all seven businesses , that were not in compliance have modified or replaced their signs to be in compliance.