Sign of the times

Sign of the times

City Hall backs off on code enforcement crackdown on menu boards

By Joe Piasecki 06/25/2009

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Following numerous complaints aired in this newspaper by local restaurateurs, city officials have decided to hold off on writing tickets for restaurants that use sidewalk advertising to attract customers.

City code enforcement officers issued warnings in May and early June to several Old Pasadena restaurants that had posted menus or tables with food in front of their businesses. At least one restaurant owner ignored warnings and received a $200 fine.

Posted menus, tables and similar forms of sidewalk advertising are technically illegal in Pasadena, but during a meeting with business owners last week City Manager Michael Beck ended the threat of fines until the city can rethink its policies.

“We don’t want to have excessive signage throughout the city. It doesn’t help anybody — just becomes clutter. But in these challenging economic times, we want to make sure we’re not being so restrictive that it inhibits the ability of businesses to connect with their customers,” Beck told the Weekly.

Jack Huang, who helped arrange the meeting with Beck and owns two Old Pasadena restaurants, Villa SORRISO and Bar Celona — both of which had been cited — called the decision a victory for common sense.

“This really lowered the frustration level for restaurateurs,” said Huang. “Everybody agreed that if you have a very presentable sign or nice table outside it can be very appropriate and attractive and serves the community well. But the code is so rigid they could cite anything they wish.

“I’m very grateful for the decision to give us flexibility right now, but it needs to be revisited for the long term. I have to attract people to come in.”

Huang and other restaurant owners have also expressed frustration with City Hall for recent increases to health inspection fees and water rate hikes.

The suspension of fines for sidewalk advertising does not, however, give business owners the right to do anything they want. Menu boards are OK “as long as it’s done in a respectful manner and doesn’t inhibit passage along the sidewalk,” said Beck.

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