City of San Carlos - Sign Regulations


Sign Regulations

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The City Council determined that revisions to the San Carlos Municipal Code for City’s regulation of signs is necessary to ensure that no new billboards are installed and to allow for orderly review and updating of the City’s current sign ordinance, to manage visual clutter while allowing reasonable opportunity for free speech by the display of a sign.

On December 14, 2009, the City Council introduced an ordinance (Ordinance,  Exhibit A and  Exhibit B) amending the San Carlos Municipal Code to add Section 12.28 to Title 12,  and amending Title 18, Section 18.150 “Signs.”

Amendments to Title 18, the Zoning Ordinance Section 18.22 “Signs,” address signs on private property.  The Sign Ordinance includes the following provisions: 

  1. A permanent and complete ban on all new billboards; the term "billboard" has a new definition.
  2. A "message substitution" provision, which says that any non-commercial speech message (religion, politics, etc.) may replace any other message on any existing, legal sign; a codification of long existing administrative policy. 
  3. The complete elimination of all rules regulating political / campaign / election signs as a distinct class; now under the wider banner of "non-commercial speech".
  4. Political and other non-commercial messages may be displayed under the "message substitution" provision, at any time, in any zoning district, on any existing sign structure which is currently legal; a restatement of long-existing policy. 
  5. In addition to the display of political and other non-commercial messages under the message substitution policy, there is a new allowance for such messages to be displayed on temporary structures, at all times and on all properties. The area allowance can be increased during the election period.
  6. Provisions for pole signs:
    a)  On parcels with freeway orientation to the Hwy 101 Corridor up to a height of 40 feet and a total sign area per display face up to 300 square feet, when shared between two or more on-site establishments.  New pole signs can be used only to display non-commercial messages and on-site commercial messages. In this narrow context, “on-site” does not necessarily mean on the same parcel, but instead, in the same general area; and

    b)  On parcels in the Commercial (C) and Industrial (M) Districts up to a height of 25 feet and the sign area for pole signs is part of the total calculation of area allowed for signage. Following Council’s policy choice to continue banning new billboards, new pole signs in these districts cannot be used for “general advertising for hire” – the use factor that distinguishes billboards.  

Existing legal signs which might become "non-conforming" as a result of this new ordinance (“grandfathered”) may remain in operation, but the non-conforming factors may not be changed.

Amendments are added to Title 12, “Streets, Sidewalks and Public Places” concerning signs on streets, sidewalks, public parks, public spaces and the public right of way address City policy and some provisions of the previous Sign Ordinance concerning public rights of way and spaces.  

The additions to Title 12 include the following provisions: 

1. Special definitions specific to public land and rights-of-way. 
2. Incorporation of the Community Events A-Frame program. 
3. Incorporation of the Laurel Street Banner program. 
4. Provision for Official Signs on City property.
5. Defining and regulating display in Traditional Public Forum areas. 
6. Provisions for encroachments.

On January 11, 2010, the City Council will consider adoption, by second reading, of the ordinance amending the San Carlos Municipal Code to add Section 12.28 to Title 12, and amending Title 18, Section 18.150 “Signs.”   If adopted, these new regulations would be in effect 30 days following the date of the City council action.