For more information, please contact: 

Brian Leveille, Senior Planner
Community Development Department
919 Palm Street
City of San Luis Obispo, CA 93401-3218

wineman downtown sign

A comprehensive update of the City’s Sign Regulations is underway. The purpose of the update is to provide regulations which result in sign installations that are compatible with the built environment, eliminate the potential for visual blight from incompatible sign installations and allow for adequate business identification. Existing sections to be updated include size, placement, height, number of signs allowed, allowed illumination and materials, sign types, review procedures, and exempt and prohibited sign types.

Main objectives and considerations of the update:

Include clear and concise regulations and graphics which are “user friendly” for business owners, developers, contractors, and City staff.

  • Incorporate current sign technologies including illumination, materials, and installation methods.
  • Consider specific regulations based on historic districts and properties, character of development, or locations within specific plans.
  • Achieve compliance with current state and federal constitutional law and any recent case law.

Dyett & Bhatia, an urban and regional planning firm, is the project consultant leading the update effort with City Planning staff assistance. Since beginning the effort, the project consultant has been conducting background research and completed interviews with interested parties and stakeholders in December, 2015. Stakeholder and staff input on suggested revisions, along with recommendations and alternatives are now available in an Issues and Options Report. The Issues and Options Report provides recommendations on needed revisions to the Sign Regulations and raises a number of policy issues for further discussion.

The Issues and Options Paper identified the following themes for key issues for the update to address:

  • Revising definitions to ensure that terms used in the current Sign Regulations and by Staff when reviewing applications appear in the list of Definitions (e.g., channel letters, can lights, cabinet sign, etc.). 
  • Establishing and clarifying (with graphics) rules for sign measurement that are easy to understand and that accommodates content that does not neatly fit inside a rectangle. 
  • Revising the requirements for window signs to address certain problems, including signs that blocks views into the interior of buildings by covering an excessive amount of window area. 
  • Establishing more specific findings that will clarify bases for approving deviations from standards, including consideration of an approach that allows Staff approval of limited dimensional variations and requires ARC approval only for more substantial modifications. Revised findings should clearly distinguish adjustments from variances.
  • Augmenting provisions for sign programs to include more detail about objectives of sign programs, applicability, and procedures for modification.
  • Identifying the Director’s authority to publish separate requirements concerning the format of and information required in sign permit applications, rather than providing detailed application requirements in the regulations.
  • Including a statement of principles for sign regulation that is the basis for making discretionary decisions, including approving deviations from standards. Including this statement of principles in the guidelines for signs, as well.
  • Revising the Signage Guidelines to incorporate principles for sign regulation in order to provide direction to ensure that signage is consistent with the City’s aesthetic values. Clearly distinguishing the guidelines from standards.  Including provisions in the Sign Regulations that state how Guidelines are used to review applications.  Identifying Guidelines that may be more appropriate to incorporate as standards.
  • Revising provisions for temporary signs as necessary to be consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Reed and incorporating provisions that will be easy and inexpensive to implement.  Ensuring that Sign Regulations establish a clear and legally defensible public purpose for any type of temporary sign that is subject to a different standard (e.g., temporary signs located on properties that are actively marketed for sale or lease).
  •  Identifying any signs that are currently classified as temporary but might be categorized as exempt from review if they conform to specific requirements (e.g. building construction signs, way finding signs that identify specific businesses within retail complexes, etc.)
  • Revising application requirements and other applicable provisions to require design review applications to indicate where signage will be located on buildings and sites.
  • Improving provisions to clarify requirements applicable to signs on landmarked buildings or within historic districts, with cross-references to other applicable Municipal Code provisions, policies, and/or guidelines to improve ease of use.
  • Revising standards that unreasonably restrict the placement of signs in order to avoid the need for unnecessary variances.  Examples of standards to potentially revise include those that restrict the placement of signs to the facade with a public entrance, even where entrance does not face public right of way, as well as standards prescribing the setbacks required for the visibility triangle.
  • Revising as necessary to ensure that standards reflect current sign technology and promote energy conservation. 

Staff and the project consultant will be completing further outreach including feedback from the Cultural Heritage Committee and Architectural Review Commission in July and August, 2016, in preparation of a draft Sign Regulations Update document. Final revisions, Council review, and adoption of an ordinance for the final updated regulations is anticipated to be completed by the end of 2016.

If you would like to be involved, have any questions, or would like to receive continued updates on the project and notifications of project developments including workshops, draft documents, and/or hearings, please contact Brian Leveille, Senior Planner at 805-781-7166, or by e-mail:

Hard copy correspondence can be sent to the following address:

Sign Regulations Update
Attn: Brian Leveille, Senior Planner
Community Development Department
919 Palm Street
City of San Luis Obispo, CA 93401-3218

Photo source: "Neon Wineman Hotel Sign" by Chris Goldberg 

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