Whittier Dealer Fights For Sign Rights

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A dealer by any other name would sell as sweet. Or that’s the way it should be.

But Whittier, Calif., powersports dealer Tom Gobrecht is fighting City Hall for his right to market to customers in the same way as auto dealers on the same road just blocks away.

He plans to attend the Oct. 27 City Council meeting to make his case to display the same kinds of signs, banners, pennants and inflatable characters that auto dealers use to bring in customers.

The city has forbidding him to do so under a zoning rule that restricts large displays to businesses with more than 75,000 square feet of property.

"Signs draw traffic and what I need is people coming into my store, not people choosing to go somewhere else," Gobrecht, who has sold Hondas and Kawasakis since 1978 at his Whittier Fun Center, told the Whittier Daily News. The problem arises from a 2007 sign code change that made language more neutral to avoid singling out auto dealers while permitting their advertising. The neutral language refers to the physical size of a business.

"Who arbitrarily decided it needed to be 75,000 square feet?" Gobrecht ponders. "We have the same DMV license and bond that a vehicle dealership has."

Gobrecht's problems started early this year when he had inflatable “air dancers” on his lot. He was told they were illegal, so he switched to flags and was told they also have to go.

But not all city officials believe the city should be pursuing a code enforcement action, which could result in substantial fines, against Gobrecht.

Community Development Director Jeff Collier and City Manager Steve Helvey told the newspaper Gobrecht's request for a change in the law hasn't been considered because City Council members didn't say anything after Gobrecht spoke at the July 28 council meeting.

Mayor Bob Henderson told the newspaper staff should study the issue.

"I'm not sure (the sign code) needs to treat a small dealership the same as a large dealership,” he said. “[But] they are similar."

Posted by Holly Wagner