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Auburn looks at dimming amount of Old Town neon signage

Eight businesses would be out of compliance of proposed rule
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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After six public meetings, rounds of follow-up emails and the first of two Auburn City Council public hearings, the signage ordinance update is all but wrapped up, but the biggest, and potentially final, sticking point is the smallest sign. The Auburn Planning Commission recommended businesses in Old Town be limited to one neon or electronic window sign per store front. The proposal would allow the eight businesses with two or more of the signs to keep them, but they could not be replaced, altered to extend their life or relocated. “They’re mainly bars and restaurants with more than one, and they’re mainly all … beer, and sometimes there’s three different Budweisers,” said Will Wong, Auburn community development director. “So the commission decided, ‘Hey, let them go away naturally on their own.’” The commission is seeking further input from businesses and is holding the second public hearing on Oct. 8 at the City Council meeting. Hank Gonzales, owner of the California Club in Old Town, isn’t content with letting his windows fade quietly into the neon sunset. “These people, they decide or somebody decided that this is an OK thing,” said Gonzales, a former Auburn mayor and city councilman. “What they forget, small businesses depend on a certain amount of window advertising, and, in our particular case, we need those signs to let them know what we do there.” Gonzales said he’s always had some form of the electronic signs during his 35 years involved with the bar. He currently has six, the largest being the glowing red “California” mounted above the entrance. He said he changes the other signs commonly when the beer companies update their advertising, which he would no longer be able to do. “I said ‘Wait a minute, what if we just do it and you don’t know about it?” said Gonzales, one of two Old Town business owners to speak at the hearing. “They said, ‘We took pictures, Hank.’ I thought ‘Whoa, that takes a tremendous amount of thinking.’” Across Lincoln Way from the California Club, Linda Robinson doesn’t rely on neon signs to draw customers – just brightly colored clothes on a rack in front of her boutique, Sun River Clothing Co. She said she’s in favor of limiting the signs because in a relatively small district they can become overwhelming, but she also said those currently hanging are fine with her because “they’ve been here forever.” “I can’t tell you how many people over hundreds of years come into my store because of that rack out there,” said Robinson, a past president of the Old Town Business Association. “I’m not one to prevent people from doing business, but you have to look at the overall district, you have to look at the economy you have to look at really everything to help make a decision for the best for everyone involved.” The City Council is also seeking feedback on the commissions’ recommendation to allow banners to be displayed for 30 days at a time annually, not just during a grand opening. It also recommended terminating the city’s temporary sign program 90 days after the signage ordinance update takes effect.