Be they dressed as oil cans, pickles, chickens, or monkeys, the myriad sign-twirlers across the City of Turlock have one thing in common: They're illegal, under the city's sign ordinance.
The ordinance bans all “animated” signs – including those animated by human muscles.
But not only are the sign-twirlers continuing to twirl, they're doing so without any threat of a fine as the city reworks its dated sign ordinance, which has gone largely unchanged since 1944.
“Why are we not fining them?” asked Turlock Planning Commissioner Soraya Fregosi, during a sign ordinance workshop on Thursday.
“It's the direction we have been given by management,” said Turlock Deputy Director of Development Services Debbie Whitmore.
While sign twirlers are included in the “animated sign” definition, the worlds of law and advertising have changed significantly since 1944. Until the ordinance has been updated to more specifically address sign twirlers, Turlock management has chosen to take a different tact to dealing with sign twirlers.
Rather than doling out fines, Turlock Police Neighborhood Services staff have been approaching sign twirlers and attempting to educate them about safe practices. When twirlers stray too close to the street, they can put themselves – and drivers – at risk by distracting traffic too much.
Cities with more current sign ordinances rarely permit sign twirlers because of the risk. But at the same time, the advertisers can't be banned entirely due to free speech laws.
“Largely, most of the agencies don't even want to touch this,” Whitmore said.
As an example, Rancho Cucamonga's sign ordinance bans sign twirlers who bear signs. But because of free speech laws, the city's ordinance makes a very specific exemption for people in costume who are not holding a commercial sign, regardless of whether the costume is closely affiliated with a business' identity.
“So if he's just a man dressed as a pickle…” Planning Commissioner Elvis Dias said.
Some solution to the sign twirling epidemic will be drafted in the coming months, as Turlock Planning Commissioners near the conclusion of a sign ordinance update process which has already taken more than six months.
“It's a very complex issue,” Whitmore said. “I think we're at the point where we need to just start drafting an ordinance and get it in front of (the planning commissioners).”
Members of the public and the business community will have an opportunity to comment on the updated sign ordinance before it is adopted.