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Freeway-oriented signs will be allowed to remain in San Clemente following the adoption of the city's sign ordinance adoption. Photo: Alex Paris
Freeway-oriented signs will be allowed to remain in San Clemente following the adoption of the city’s sign ordinance adoption. Photo: Alex Paris

By Eric Heinz 

With the final reading of the sign ordinance that has drawn heavy criticism from business owners who own or would like to install freeway-oriented pole signs in San Clemente, the City Council passed the bill, voting 3-1-1, with Councilwoman Lori Donchak opposing it and Councilman Tim Brown absent.

At the Tuesday night meeting, business owners and representatives reiterated their position that the ordinance provisions were too restrictive and much of the support at public meetings had been against their prohibition.

Brad Malamud, a resident and attorney in San Clemente, said although he doesn’t have a stake in this debate, he said he couldn’t understand why the City Council would want to ban the signs.

“(The ordinance) is arbitrary and capricious and there’s no evidence of these signs causing freeway accidents,” Malamud said. “…You should be encouraging business in this town and I don’t know why we would want to have them banned.”

Donchak said she did not support the ordinance because it is too restrictive on businesses in San Clemente and that because of the outcry to change it there should be further discussion and examination of the ordinance.

“I really believe that in our community there’s a fine line to fuel the amenities and all the things we enjoy as residents, and I feel this is a solution looking for a problem,” Donchak said.

Councilwoman Kathy Ward said because of the way the sign ordinance was originally written, not much had been changed except for the provisions regarding freeway-oriented signs. Additionally, Ward said the City Council has received letters in support of the ordinance to not allow additional pole signs to be constructed.

“We have heard from people and we have gotten letters that say we don’t want any freeway signs,” Ward said.  “We have had a huge process on this, and the Planning Commission went (farther) from what we requested.”

Some business owners said the ordinance could be construed as unconstitutional, but City Attorney Scott Smith said there was nothing in the ordinance that infringed on free enterprise rights.

During the meeting, Councilman Chris Hamm emphasized the current signs would not be taken down and owners can keep them up so long as they are maintained and not altered significantly.

“What we did here tonight was protect the existing rights of the sign owners in San Clemente, whether it be a pole sign or a wall sign,” Hamm said. “They will be able to maintain those signs in perpetuity, and that’s what’s important to take away from this evening.”

The new provisions of the ordinance will go into effect 30 days from the April 5 adoption of the law.

The full ordinance can be read at

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comments (1)

  • Letting existing signs remain provided they are kept up is the right thing to do.

    Going forward this just impacts freeway oriented signs which is a good call. Traditional pole sign marketing is a thing of the past. It is expensive and grossly ineffective in the digital world we live in. Locals already know where business are and if they don’t, such as with newcomers, they instead rely on digital marketing / navigation tools to find their way to a business.

    What businesses in San Clemente really need to do is better leverage digital marketing which is thousands of times more effective and at a lessor cost.

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