Signs of the Times
Monterey cracks down on Fisherman’s Wharf signs; businesses cry foul.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Several veteran property owners on Fisherman’s Wharf are locking horns with the city over what they see as a scheme to squeeze money out of merchants.
“It’s out of control,” says Cafe Fina owner Dominic Mercurio. The Planning Commission slapped him with a $125 fine last June for hanging a thin strip of wood reading “Ristorante” from his restaurant’s existing sign.
Fellow property owner Sam Balester coughed up $550 last summer for refusing to remove a sign that’s been on his building since 1968. And Angelo Di Girolamo, who owns the Bruce Ariss Theater and has done business on the wharf for 74 of his 91 years, says city officials have threatened to fine him for displaying small signs in his window.
“They go overboard,” Di Girolamo says. “They act like they own my property.”
Code Compliance Coordinator David Wright says the city gave property owners plenty of warning about enforcement: “We sent multiple letters saying, ‘We’re coming.’”
But the owners contend it’s unfair for the city to crack down on signs now after accepting them for decades, especially in a down economy. “We should get some sort of grandfather clause,” Balester says.
Mercurio says officials have also asked him to take down the lights he’s had up for 22 years and replace them with smaller ones in line with the city’s Waterfront Master Plan. “The unique lights and colors on the wharf is what this place is all about,” he says.
Monterey Senior Planner Forrest Ebbs says city staff wrote the design guidelines with input from wharf businesses. “We’re trying to make the wharf bigger, brighter and more consistent with its ’50s and ’60s-era aesthetic,” Ebbs says.
Bringing all businesses on board with that vision could be an uphill battle.