Tucson Progressive

Pamela Powers Hannley, a progressive voice for Arizona

Save Tucson’s Sign Code: Will tinkering bring back the ugliest street in US?

Cluttered with so many signs that you can hardly see the street, Speedway Blvd. was dubbed the ugliest street in American by Life Magazine in 1970.

Being known as “ugly” is not a good designation for a town that lives on tourism. In the 1980s, Tucsonans passed landmark sign code legislation that has gradually whittled away billboards and reduced the number and scale of signs.

Tucson Sign Code works to beautify our city, and that is why it is under attack by the sign industry and local businesses. The question is: Will the Tucson City Council have the backbone to protect it? Judging by recent “business friendly” rulings by the City Council that have weakened the Sign Code, don’t hold your breath. (In December 2010, they voted unanimously to allow more signs and larger signs along Tucson’s scenic corridors. In March 2011, they voted to allow the Jewish Community Center to erect a billboard on the side of their building, which is in Tucson’s scenic corridor.)

The latest Sign Code battle is being fought on two fronts. Business interests are pressuring the City Council to eliminate the Sign Code Appeals and Advisory Board (SCAAB), the citizens’ review board that hears appeals when businesses want a variance to the sign code, and to pass a historic sign amendment to the Sign Code, which goes far beyond saying the funky neon signs along Miracle Mile.

Businesses are attacking the SCAAB because the SCAAB doesn’t roll over and do everything they want. From Sign Code activist Mark Mayer…

A proposal is now pending before Mayor and Council to eliminate the SCAAB and assign its functions to the Board of Adjustment.  This proposal, which is stealthily labeled “Improvement in Sign Code Administration”, is part of the City Manager’s Strategic Work Plan that you will be asked to vote on July 6.   The proposal is the apparent result of the repeated sign industry failures to stack SCAAB with its members and allies and it is now setting its sights on the Board of Adjustment as an alternative forum (with “recommended” appointments to undoubtedly follow).  Any claims that this move is due to budgetary issues ring hollow, as there are no proposals to eliminate the larger, more expensive, and sign industry-dominated Citizen Sign Code Committee (CSCC) and assign its functions to the Planning Commission.  The SCAAB proposal needs to be rejected, at least until such time sign regulations are appropriately incorporated into the Land Use Code and the CSCC issues noted above are fully addressed.

The proposed historic sign change sounds good on the surface, but it goes too far. Again, from Mayer…

An ordinance to ostensibly protect historic signs is now before the City Council in Study Session on June 14 [that’s today!] and in public hearing on June 28. The draft ordinance has mushroomed well beyond what was originally conceived and would now open the door to the largest and tallest of signs being relocated or resurrected on properties where they never existed before and without any notification to surrounding property owners, without any public hearing, and without a legislative decision being made by Mayor and Council. Instead, the decision would be made by a single administrative official, which, if not without statutory authority, is certainly bad public policy. It is no wonder that the sign industry and its proxy, the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, are heartily supporting this ordinance. The Mayor and Council need to narrow the scope of the ordinance down to its original focus, which was to determine the relatively limited number of older signs that are widely embraced by the community for their historic value and focus on their preservation. [Emphasis added. ]

As I said at the beginning of this article, Being known as “ugly” is not a good designation for a town that lives on tourism. If the Mayor and Council truly want to be business friendly, they should keep the SCAAB and ask that the focus of the historic sign amendment be narrowed to its original intent.

Tell the City Council what you think. Here’s a link to their contact information, or better yet, come to the meetings and speak in favor of keeping Tucson off the worst-dressed list.

37 comments on “Save Tucson’s Sign Code: Will tinkering bring back the ugliest street in US?

  1. Mark B. Evans
    June 14, 2011

    It was actually Tucson Mayor James Corbett who called Speedway “the ugliest street” in America. Life just printed the quote and the picture, it did not designate Speedway thus. The story was about sign blight all across America. See the photos and read the story here: http://books.google.com/books?id=sFUEAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA34&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=2#v=onepage&q&f=false

  2. Hugh Holub
    June 14, 2011

    Looking at the Life Magazine picture I could not see a single business that is still open there.

    There is a really obnoxious billboard where Wilmot turns into Tanque Verde blocking the view of the Catalainas. If that sign can’t be torn down, someone ought to rent it and paste a photo of the mountains on it so drivers don’t miss the scene.

    Seems to me signs are evidence of panic…times are tough so how do you get moe customers? Bigger and more signs…then everyone has to have bigger and more signs until the point is reached you can’t find the business buried in all the clutter and distraction of the signs.

    • Pamela Powers
      June 14, 2011

      Spot on, Hugh. There is also a GIANT, highly obnoxious billboard next to the new Feast location on Speedway. Driving west, you can hardly see Feast’s cute new building for that horrible sign. In the Internet age, the idea that a bigger sign means more business is a sign industry canard. A solid webpage, Twitter account, a facebook page, and good buzz by regular customers are much more valuable than a big, ugly sign.

    • Mark B. Evans
      June 14, 2011

      Precision Toyota is still there and so is Quebadeaux, but you have to look deep into the photo to see those signs. Some of those businesses closer to the street were victims of eminent domain when Tucson widened Speedway.
       

    • ben
      June 15, 2011

      there is a giant 3-4 level building right behind that sign that already blocks your precious mountain view.  should we tear that down as well so we can all enjoy the beautiful mountain views?! 

  3. Dirk J. Arnold
    June 14, 2011

    The only panic is in this article. The historic landmark sign provisions were very carefully crafted in over a year of meetings, and there is absolutely no way it will introduce new large signs to our streets.

    • Pamela
      June 14, 2011

      It may not introduce new large signs, but it is my understanding the old large signs that are as new as the 1970s could be relocated and preserved. Personally, I think that Tucson architecture from the 1970s is pretty horrid.  I think the original cut-off date for what is considered historic is preferred.

      • Dirk J. Arnold
        June 14, 2011

        Do you also “understand” that in order to do just about anything with a Historic Landmark Sign that it must meet several criteria in addition to age, none of which would allow a big slab of backlit plastic to be considered? Do you also “understand” that before you can do anything you must prepare a treatment plan for the sign that gets reviewed by the Tucson Pima Historic Commission Plans Review Subcommittee?

  4. jim hannley
    June 14, 2011

    Thank for the correction on the original article, Mark. I find it highly amusing that Mayor Corbett was the source of that designation. Hugh, I heartily agree. It is salient to observe that almost none of those business remain. Yes, it is true that the industry assets falsely that a larger and/or more signs in all cases. Dirk, I am afraid that the original effort has been hijacked and expanded past the original noble intent. Now it is no longer acceptable. It becomes a gateway for perpetuation of signage which is not necessarily artful nor historic. “Landmark” signage can describe an eyesore, a blight upon the scenery. One thing definitely wrong with the ordinance is to allow an applicant failing the tests to bring it to M&C. In my experience, they are too eager to accommodate business interests in many cases.

    • Jim Hannley
      June 14, 2011

      That should be “asserts” and “…in all cases would improve customer traffic.”

  5. Mark
    June 14, 2011

    It is unfortunate that Mr.Mayer continues to use this tired old argument. I am sure we can all point out signs that we don’t like and some maybe aware that a recent court ruling is requiring that some billboards be removed. This historic landmark sign provision has been well thought out and will give some business the ability to preserve some of  Tucson’s history. I do not believe there is going to be a mad rush to bring back all these historic signs. Pamela, I would encourage you to talk with the people that where part of the committee to hear the positive side of this debate. Mr. Mayer’s dislike for signage has been well documented for many years it is time we move forward.

  6. Mark
    June 14, 2011

    Same old tired argument from Mr.Mayer.

  7. Sarah Harris
    June 14, 2011

    After reading the historic sign provisions, I wrote letters in support of the changes, and I have a couple responses to the comments about the historic sign ordinance. 

    Which “largest and tallest” historic signs are we in fear of taking down, restoring, and re-erecting? The Flamingo hotel sign on Stone? Sparkle Cleaners Sud ‘n Service at Stone & Drachman? La Siesta on Oracle? The Tucson Inn on Drachman? The Hotel Congress on top of the Congress Hotel (surely the largest and tallest)? Should “large and tall” signs be excluded from historic preservation?

    I’m curious how Mr. Mayer would “focus on the preservation” of inventoried signs without providing mechanisms for preserving them via code changes and compliance processes.

    In re Mr. Mayer’s assertion as to the “original scope of the ordinance,” I believe he’s mistaken. From what I’ve read on the City’s web site, the City didn’t dictate the scope of an ordinance.  He may be confusing the scope of the ordinance with the scope of the sign preservation program. In February 2009, the proposed scope of a sign preservation program was based on a survey of such programs in other communities: a definition of the term “historic landmark sign,” an inventory of signs, possible historic sign districts, code compliance options and preservation incentives,  and a designation and review process.

    In regard to the review and approval process, it does not rest on a single administrative official. It involves review and input from Planning and Development Services, the Historic Preservation Zone Advisory Board (if within a historic preservation zone), and the Tucson-Pima Historical Commission, and it may include the Tucson Department of Transportation and neighborhood reviews. In some cases, it may involve Mayor and Council.

    Regarding the signage industrial complex in Tucson, I’m sure those behemoths are chomping at the bit to get their hands on the overwhelming neon restoration business that’s coming its way with this ordinance. Really? Heaven forbid we should support a half dozen neon artists with some restoration work.

    For those who want more background and the text of the proposed ordinance, here’s a link to the program web site with all the related materials:
    http://cms3.tucsonaz.gov/preservation/historicsigns/index.html

    • Pamela Powers
      June 14, 2011

      My understanding is that the revision moves the date for what is considered historic to the 1970s. My concern is the possible salvation of signs like the giant 1970s Kinney’s Shoe sign that Thoroughbred Nissan claimed was historic, but it seemed obvious that they wanted to save it because it was bigger than anything for miles around. (It also was opposed by most if not all of the neighborhoods around it.) Other signs on Speedway that may be deemed historic under this criteria (but have no artistic or aesthetic value, in my opinion) include Naughten’s Heating and Cooling sign, the pawn shop sign near Swan, and the multiple grotesquely large car dealership signs that now mark vacant lots in midtown + several in the First Ave/Stone area like Shari’s Drive-In and others that mark now-vacant businesses. (I would love to have those signs ‘dozed now!) These signs do not fall into the same aesthetic category as the kitschy neon signs that dotted Miracle Mile in Tucson’s hey-day as a motor hotel haven.

      So, my criteria for salvation is based on design (which is hard to describe in a law) and not necessarily size.

      • Dirk J. Arnold
        June 14, 2011

        The proposed code changes’s criteria are far more specific than yours, and none of them have anything to do with size. Date of manufacture, intact or restorable historic fabric, inclusion of neon or incandescent lights, non-rectangular shape, explicitly no billboards, among others…

      • pamela
        June 15, 2011

        I agree with preserving truly historic signs-v like the ones near older neigh godhoods like yours. It’s the 1975 inclusion date that worries me because I want to get rid of those ugly car dealer signs in midtown that now mark empty lots. Most but not all of those are rectangular.

        Public comment to the Council is not until June 28. I am willing to do a follow up story about thee historic angle. I am also considering a slide show or video tour. How do I find out the age of a sign?

      • Pamela Powers
        June 15, 2011

        “Neighborhoods,” that is. Typos!

      • Really
        June 15, 2011

        Research is usually the way reporters attain information.

      • Jim Hannley
        June 14, 2011

        The changes would change the original proposed date of installation from 1960 to 1975.

      • Really
        June 15, 2011

        It seems to me after reading all these comments, that really your criteria means your personal opinion and designs you personally approve of…that seems fair!
        It also occurs that the old Kinney sign restoration was turned down by the SCAAB board, so why muddy the waters with that.  How does one write an article for the Citizen without properly researching the pertinent information and once proven wrong on several fronts begin the attack on signs and sign companies…or even business owners trying to get by in an awful economy.  Let me guess, your opinion is also that the economy is turning around?  My criteria actually “understand” what you’re talking about, before you publicly write about it!

  8. Sarah Harris
    June 14, 2011

    I composed a long response but got an error when I attempted to submit it.

    Long story short: Mr. Mayer’s assertions are incorrect (i.e., not factual, wrong, misguided, and misleading.)

    For folks who want the background and facts about the Historic Landmark Signs Preservation Program, here is a link to the City’s web site for the project:
    http://cms3.tucsonaz.gov/preservation/historicsigns/index.html

  9. Sarah Harris
    June 14, 2011

    Oh! looks like I got both.

  10. Mark
    June 14, 2011

    Thank you Sarah, very well said.

  11. cruz
    June 14, 2011

    I don’t see Daddy Jack’s Blue Note.

    • Pamela Powers
      June 14, 2011

      I actually liked Daddy Jack’s sign. I’m assuming it’s gone– along with the Dainty Diaper sign that used to be on Ninth St. 🙂

      • Fraser007
        June 14, 2011

        Ohhhh Daddy Jacks sign and all of the wonderful thoughts  that brings back!

        The Blue Note.

      • Fraser007
        June 14, 2011

        Pamela:

        Did you work there?…………………..just kidding.

      • Pamela Powers
        June 15, 2011

        Fraser, no, although I’m a dancer, I didn’t work there. I went there once with friends in the early 1980s– after  night of dancing and screwdrivers at Ninos (on 1st). I was actually shocked at how not-hot the dancers were.

  12. Pamela Powers
    June 14, 2011

    City Council take note: Every time I write about the Sign Code, there is a lot of interest from the residents of Tucson.

    • Dirk J. Arnold
      June 14, 2011

      Toot! Toot! Well, it appears to be mostly your “friends” pointing out how wrong-headed your narrowly-informed opinion is. It doesn’t seem particularly “progressive” to ensure the demise of our city’s cultural resources in the interest of tilting at windmills for a journalistic thrill.

      • Jim Hannley
        June 14, 2011

        Well, one of YOUR friends, Dirk seems to be Mark Jones, who works for Flouresco. I can detect him in the commenter above “Mark”.  We serve on the SCAAB together.

      • Fraser007
        June 15, 2011

        Flouresco. I remember that company. I called them once to give me a bid on a sign for a lajor facility in Downtown Tucson. They laughed at me over the phone. Laughed because it would not be worth their time. (Several hundred of dollars!)
        So I hear they are not doing as well in this economy. Here is what I used them for. When I needed a “high” bid for my paperwork I called them. Hope they choke.

      • Mark
        June 15, 2011

        It is amazing to me how quickly some want to turn this into an attack against a legitimate and well established business that provides jobs to people in this community Oh, but they are jobs for people who make signs so they must be “evil”. Give me a break just stick to the issue at hand and Fraser007 if you would like to call me to discuss your issues with Fluoresco please feel free to do so anytime.

      • Fraser007
        June 15, 2011

        Nope. Not interested. The company had its chance. They blew it. For me its just another high bid company. Lots of other great companies who are not rude and dismissive at a project that was several hundred dollars. In this economy you can take the money and put it where the sun does not shine. I took my business elsewhere.

    • Really
      June 15, 2011

      Pamela take note:  Many of them are pointing out how very misinformed you are.

  13. ben
    June 15, 2011

    MORE BUSINESS!  If changing the sign code brings in more business then it needs to be changed.  Screw all the NIMBYs who dont care that our city is one of the most unfriendly business cities in america and then wonder why we cant pay for police and fire!!!  you want all these government funded programs here than you need more business!

  14. Pingback: Historic Landmark Signs: Should Tucson preserve its neon heritage? (video) - Tucson Progressive

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About

The Tucson Progressive: Pamela Powers Hannley

I stand on the side of Love. I believe in kindness to all creatures on Earth and the inherent self-worth of all individuals--not just people who agree with me or look like me.

Widespread economic and social injustice prompted me to become a candidate for the Arizona House, representing Legislative District 9 in the 2016 election. My platform focuses on economic reforms to grow Arizona's economy, establish a state-based public bank, fix our infrastructure, fully fund public education, growlocal small businesses and community banks, and put people back to work at good-paying jobs. I also stand for equal rights, choice, and paycheck fairness for women. I am running as a progressive and running clean.

My day job is managing editor for the American Journal of Medicine, an academic medicine journal with a worldwide circulation. In addition, my husband and I co-direct Arizonans for a New Economy, Arizona's public banking initiative. I am a member of the national board of the Public Banking Institute, and I am co-chair of the Arizona Democratic Progressive Caucus, the largest caucus of the Arizona Democratic Party.

I am a published author, photographer, videographer, clay artist, mother, nana, and wife. I have a bachelor's degree in journalism from Ohio State University and a masters in public health from the University of Arizona. I grew up in Amherst, Ohio, but I have lived in Tucson, Arizona since 1981. I am a proud member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson and the Public Relations Society of America.

My Tucson Progressive blog and Facebook page feature large doses of liberal ideas, local, state, and national politics, and random bits of humor. I also blog at Blog for Arizona and the Huffington Post.

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