Holiday lights, old building relief among zoning changes

The County of San Diego’s most recent cleanup of its Zoning Ordinance will place a 60-day annual limit on holiday lights and  will eliminate a requirement that unreinforced masonry buildings built prior to earthquake standards be brought into compliance or torn down.

 The San Diego County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the changes that will take effect April 3.

 For the most part the changes were cleanups that affected language or placement.  

“We were looking to remove duplicative or unnecessary chapters in the county code,” said Darren Gretler, the chief of the building division for the county’s Department of Planning and Land Use.  “There’s no reason to have it in two places.”

Other updates added definitions or section purpose statements.

The changes add awnings to the building permit requirements for marquees and permanent signs.  The previous ordinance prevented a sign, marquee or awning from overhanging any portion of a street unless a concrete curb extended the full length of the property. The amended rule prohibits overhanging any portion of a road right-of-way without both a concrete curb and a 10-foot parkway adjacent to the property.  Any sign, marquee or awning that interferes with a traveler’s vision is also prohibited and words that could be mistaken for traffic directions are also not allowed.

The light pollution chapter adds a definition of “holiday decoration,” describing it as an outdoor luminaire used only for temporary decorative purposes to celebrate a specific holiday.

The definition of luminaire was also created to specify a complete lighting unit including the lamp, fixture and other parts.

 Another new definition describes an “on premises advertising sign” as a sign  on the premises of a facility open to the public that advertises the facility’s name, product or service, hours of operation, or other information related to the facility.

Holiday decorations had previously been exempt from lighting requirements but had not been defined or limited by the ordinance.  Under the new language, holiday decorations are exempt provided that they are used for no more than 60 days in a 12-month period (if Thanksgiving falls on the earliest possible date, Nov. 22, holiday lights operating between the day after Thanksgiving and the twelfth day of Christmas Jan. 6 would be  used for 45 days) and that the lights are off between 11 p.m. and sunrise.

 The 60-day stipulation for holiday lights does not specify any particular time of year.  

“This allows flexibility for whatever holiday anyone wants to enjoy,” Gretler said.

The term “use” allows holiday lights to be in place for more than 60 days in a 12-month period if they are not turned on.

 The light pollution section also exempts a facility required by state or federal law to have non-compliant outdoor lighting, although proof of such an exemption must be included when an electrical permit application is submitted.

The temporary exemption portion of the light pollution section now limits such exemptions to community or other events where the public benefit outweighs any harm that might occur to other parties and to emergency situations beyond the control of the exemption applicant.

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