Says Mammoth ‘looks like a swap meet’ in summer months
After years of wrangling over what to do about the proliferation of what she considers unsightly banner signs in Mammoth, Planning Commissioner Elizabeth Tenney said she has a solution.
“We should eliminate all banners except for special events,” she said at a commission meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 13. “We should eliminate all ‘temporary’ signs, too.”
Tenney, who over the years has been the strongest advocate of a more aesthetic town appearance, said she has “had it up to here” in trying to enforce the current sign code, which lays out strict rules over the banner signage.
The problem, she asserted, is that the town has few resources to enforce the codes because of budget cutbacks to the town staff.
The result was that last summer, the town had the look and feel of a “swap meet,” what with droopy banners, endless tent sales and temporary signs that currently can be displayed for up to three months—the entire summer season and three-fourths of the winter season, in other words.
She suggested instead that the town look at reserving specific weekends for outdoor sales rather than have each merchant decide when he or she is going to conduct one.
“I’d really like to re-visit the signing code sooner rather than later, before summer, and address [the idea of] no banners at all; outdoor sales and if we should limit it to two or three weekends; talk about animating Main Street and Old Mammoth Road, and finally, special events.
“We’ve got to up our game.”
Tenney asked the commission to conduct a workshop to address the aforementioned issues, and to nail down, once and for all, what constitutes a “special event,” apparently referring to loopholes that allowed this past winter’s “Old Mammoth Rail Jam”  event in the Sierra Center Mall parking lot.
“We were taken advantage of,” she said.
The issues of banner ads, tent sales, special events and so on are not new ; in fact, they represent part of an ongoing saga of Mammoth in its sporadic attempts to define, then enforce, what it wants to be, and what it wants to look like.
In 2011, the Town Council adopted a comprehensive update to the Sign Code, as proposed by the Planning Commission.
The update included more progressive and business-friendly regulations.
Extensive outreach was conducted, including workshops and public hearings at both the Planning Commission and Town Council. The Sign Code Update allowed banners subject to certain requirements, where sales and promotional banners were previously prohibited.
Since then, budget issues have reduced code compliance resources, and the town has not had a dedicated code compliance officer for over five years.
In some peer resort communities, compliance officers conduct sign inspections daily.
In December 2011, the town staff started a code compliance effort on illegal signs. There were a total of 25 cases (19 banner cases) and compliance was obtained in 22 of those 25 cases. But the effort slowed down in spring 2012 as other priorities arose.
As a result, banners, tent sales, and temporary signs proliferated in the summer months last year.
Tenney’s proposal, to return to a flat prohibition on banner sales, tent sales and the like, hit the commission and the staff somewhat by surprise.
Commissioner Dave Harvey illustrated the conundrum by saying he recently had spoken with a merchant about the idea of having a season-long “pop-up” structure outside his business.
“One man’s pop-up,” he said, “is another man’s tent.”