By Joe Shaw
OC Voice Columnist
(This column was written in February, 2009)
California lost 600,000 jobs in January. The jobless rate in California is now 9.3 percent. Huntington Beach’s Quiksilver recently announced 150 layoffs in their workforce. Boeing laid off 64 local workers. Home Depot’s Expo Design Center and Circuit City is closing, leaving more workers without a job.
And Huntington Beach home sales remain down and foreclosures continue to edge up.
Perfect time for the HB City Council to create some jobs and help our small businesses, right? Wrong. A move by planning commissioners to remove a ban on human signs was rejected by the city council 5-2.
Why wouldn’t the council vote to lift one of the many rules and regulations that frustrate small business and cost them money? Why wouldn’t our city council support free trade, small business and creating jobs?
Councilman Don Hansen told the Los Angeles Times the signs were a “form of visual blight.”
Sounds like hypocrisy from the councilman who just named a realtor as his new planning commissioner. Ever driven around Huntington Beach on the weekends and seen all the real estate signs on every corner?
Ever driven down Beach Boulevard and noticed that many of our sign restrictions don’t apply to our auto dealerships?
If the council is so opposed to visual blight, why didn’t they add restrictions to real estate signs and to the auto dealerships? Why? Real estate agents and auto dealerships have more political power than small mom-and-pop businesses.
The visual blight argument just doesn’t cut it.
When I moved into my new home near Beach and Garfield, one night I noticed a big beautiful full moon over the neighborhood. White, round, luminescent, it floated over the neighborhood. As I drove close and closer to my house though, I started to suspect something was not quite right. Then I discovered it was a balloon sign advertising the Honda Dealership. My neighborhood has its very own moon!
City staff also opposed the signs as distractions to drivers. However, the same staff, who usually are more on the ball than they were on the sign issue, recommended approval earlier last year of a flashing reader board sign along Beach Boulevard for a, you guessed it, auto dealership.
The fact is, small businesses often get the short end of the stick from the city. Fees are imposed on them that don’t make sense. Sign restrictions can sometimes seem onerous and expensive to mom and pop businesses whose profits are small and incremental.
In these tough times, a Subway shop or a Fantastic Sams, owned by franchisees, need every dollar they can get. If they can increase their daily cash flow by 10 percent with a human sign, the city should not stand in their way.
Every extra dollar small businesses can bring in is another dollar the owner, who often makes no more than a middle class wage, can take home. What’s more, 75 percent of the money that a small business makes stays in the community, unlike chain stores, where only 30 percent of the money stays local.
Human signs can be people wearing costumes, spinning a large sign or simply wearing a sandwich board. Human signs are just that, human. That means there’s a living breathing soul making money to get by. That’s especially important in these tough times. Huntington Beach has vulnerable citizens that need an opportunity to make money. We could have created 20-30 jobs for seniors who need to supplement their social security incomes or for teens or immigrants who are finding work harder to get.
The majority of our city council never had to deal with the difficulties and challenges of small businesses. They’ve never had to meet a payroll, or lay people off in bad times. These issues are academic and unreal to them.
The council had a chance to make a small gesture that would have sent a big message to our independent contractors, small businesses and our most vulnerable citizens. A message that the city would not put trivial obstacles in their way and that the city was on their side.
Instead, they lost an opportunity to make a difference.
Note: Read this related article: Chilling Effect
Joe Shaw co-publishes the OC Progressive blog.