Commission Hears Downtown’s Cry, ‘Save Our Signs!’


For those who missed last month’s Redding Planning Commission meeting, we asked Douglas DeMallie, a Redding senior planner, to explain a recent city staff proposal regarding existing downtown Redding “character” signs, a recommendation approved by the Planning Commission.

Doug, thank you for taking a few minutes to answer our questions.

Q: To start with, could you please summarize the staff proposal?

A number of the large freestanding signs and some building-mounted signs downtown are considered “non-conforming” because they do not comply with current sign regulations in regard to height, size or location. The signs are allowed to continue to exist as is, but they can’t be substantially modified or relocated, as it is the underlying intent of the City’s non-conforming provision of the Zoning Ordinance to eventually eliminate non-conforming uses (signs or otherwise). The proposal relaxes the non-conforming provisions of “downtown character signs” by allowing the refurbishment, reuse or relocation of a non-conforming downtown sign if, in the opinion of the Planning Commission, the sign has historic or graphic value to the community.

Q: What was the impetus behind city staff recommendation of its proposal for the sign-modification provision?

The impetus really came from the downtown groups. The Planning Division is in a process of doing some house-keeping on the Downtown Specific Plan to bring it up to date with recent amendments to the General Plan regarding building heights and residential density, terminology in the Zoning Ordinance, and minor lot development standards. We ran the clean-up by Viva Downtown, Renaissance Redding, and the Downtown Redding Business Association. Their comments included a suggestion to do something to encourage preservation of signs that may represent an era of downtown development and sign design. I don’t know if she would want credit, but I think Michelle Goedert first came up with the thought and provided some helpful research.

Q: Can you think of examples of signs that could be preserved because of this provision?

The Greyhound Bus Depot and Thunderbird Lodge signs are a couple that folks seem interested in maintaining.

Q: Personally, I hated to see the old Safeway sign destroyed, but that’s just me. Can you give examples of bygone Redding signs that might have benefited from this modification?

The Safeway sign is the only one that comes to my mind as well. Removal of such signs usually comes with complete redevelopment of a property (such as the Safeway site). There may have been some 1950s, 60s service station or car dealership signs downtown that would have warranted consideration, but they would have been removed years ago. Bear in mind preservation is voluntary, not mandatory; the Safeway folks expressed a desire to remove the sign.

Q: Is downtown Redding the only place that allows neon signs, and if so, why?

May be a misunderstanding here. Neon signs are not prohibited by the City’s Sign Ordinance. You may be thinking of the Downtown Plan, which prohibits neon signs in the CBD District. We are also proposing to relax that provision by allowing use of neon for accent or special lighting features. Use of neon is encouraged in the Uptown Business District of the Downtown Plan Area.

Q: Is there some way the city could classify some Redding signs as historic, and, therefore, protected — much like a heritage tree?

California law does give cities some latitude in creating local historic registers for purposes of preservation, however, bear in mind preservation ordinances usually mean some degree of surrender of property rights, so there must be a very strong case for historic community value.

Q: Assuming that the restoration of vintage signs could be costly, what incentives are in place to encourage a business to preserve an old sign?

The main incentive lies in the size and amount of signage a parcel is allowed. Most of the signs we are talking about are taller or larger than what the current sign regulations allow, so an owner may consider refurbishing an old, large sign instead of removing it and installing a shorter or smaller new sign that meets current regulations. The Sign Ordinance allots a maximum amount of signage to each property in the City, based upon the size and zoning of the property. In some cases, the existing downtown signs take up all of the property’s allotment precluding additional signage. Another incentive being offered is that if an owner refurbishes a downtown character sign, it will not count toward more than 50% of the property’s total allotment, potentially allowing additional signage. That may or may not be a good thing, depending upon your view of signs.

Q: Anything else you’d like us to know about this topic?

I will share that I also had a nostalgic feeling for that Safeway sign. My dad was an employee of a Safeway store in Oakland and moved our family to Redding in 1963 to work at the Cypress Avenue store. Best thing he ever did for me.

We appreciate your taking the time to enlighten us on this interesting topic, Doug. And I loved the mention of your Safeway sign connection. Very cool. Thank you.

Readers, what Redding signs do you think are worthy of preservation?

Photos and Slideshow by Bruce Greenberg

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate. Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments