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Noll opposes locating electronic message board at SH Park; commission asks for further study

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Nick Diamantides
Staff Writer

At a community workshop conducted during its Wednesday evening meeting, the Signal Hill Parks and Recreation Commission inched the City closer to installing a monument sign with an electronic message center, but the location of the device may not be close to the corner of Hill Street and Cherry Avenue as was originally planned. The workshop’s purpose was to give residents and business people the opportunity to voice their opinions about the sign. Toward the end of the discussion, even Vice Mayor Mike Noll told the commissioners that, in his opinion, installing the sign there was “unacceptable.”
After about two hours of staff reports and comments from residents, the commission voted unanimously to direct staff to further study certain aspects of the billboard, taking into account the concerns expressed at the meeting. A second community workshop, which will include an updated staff report, will probably take place at the commission’s April meeting.
During the Wednesday meeting, which took place at the Signal Hill Park Community Center, nobody opposed the City’s plan to invest about $49,000 to install the high-tech monument. The only bone of contention was the proposed location near northeast corner of Signal Hill Park.
At the opening of the workshop, Pilar Alcivar-McCoy, director of community services, outlined the long history of the City’s plan to install the electronic sign. “The first mention of the electronic message center occurred during the FY2002/2003 budget workshops,” she said. “The Parks and Recreation Commission submitted the electronic message center as a project that was listed in the budget.” Alcivar-McCoy explained that the Signal Hill City Council did not fund the project 10 years ago because of more pressing needs in the budget, but the commission has recommended the electronic message center in subsequent budgets as the best way to inform residents of recreation programs, and important local events.
“From August 2010 to March 2011, the commission discussed design and location for a monument sign at a number of public meetings,” Alcivar-McCoy said. “The original location was proposed for the corner of Cherry Avenue and Hill Street.” She added that the original plan would have placed the monument parallel to Hill Street with a double-sided reader board, visible to traffic in both directions, but in response to a resident’s concerns about potential driver distractions, staff requested a review of the plan by Bill Zimmerman, city traffic engineer.
After analyzing the monument’s likely impacts on motorists, Zimmerman recommended installing the electronic sign south of the corner of Hill Street and Cherry Avenue, near the existing park monument sign. According to Alcivar-McCoy, Zimmerman also recommended that the sign be installed 30 feet back from the street, and at a 45-degree angle so as not to distract drivers. Placing it at an angle precluded having a double-sided reader board.
At its March 2011 meeting, the commission requested that the city council approve the sign’s installation as per Zimmerman’s recommendations. The council did so on April 5, 2011, and on June 19, 2012 awarded the contract to manufacture and install the sign.
In recent months, however, according to Alcivar-McCoy, residents have expressed concerns about the City’s public outreach effort, the location of the sign and traffic safety considerations. “The mayor directed the city manager to schedule a community workshop before the Parks and Recreation Commission to review the sign proposal and take into consideration additional public comments,” Alcivar-McCoy said. “The mayor also directed that the sign installation be placed on hold, pending the workshop and re-review by the commission.”
During the workshop, Zimmerman said that he analyzed the intersection of Hill Street and Cherry Avenue using a Federal Highway Administration formula. “Using this measure, the accident rate for this intersection is much lower than the rate that could be expected for an intersection of this type,” he explained, adding that according to annual reports submitted to the California Highway Patrol by the Signal Hill Police Department, during the past three years, only four accidents have occurred at that intersection.
Zimmerman added that his analysis indicated that installing the electronic sign just south of the intersection and at a 45-degree angle would not significantly distract drivers. He did, however, recommend a list of mitigation measures including lengthening the display time for each message, reducing the illumination at certain times to minimize light pollution and limiting the hours of operation to be only from 6am to 10pm.
After Zimmerman’s comments, the commission gave residents the opportunity to voice their opinions. Those favoring the sign were asked to speak first. About seven people went forward to express their strong support for the sign and the proposed location.
Terry Rogers, Signal Hill Chamber of Commerce president, expressed support of the sign. “Almost every city that I know of has one of these electronic signs somewhere in their city,” she said. “This sign will help local businesses, and it is much better than putting up banners in the park. I think it is a wonderful thing to do.”
Signal Hill Councilmember Larry Forester, who is also a board member on the Conservation Corps of Long Beach, said the electronic sign is a better way than banners to publicize Concerts in the Park. “What a perfect way for the Conservationi Corps of Long Beach to advertise,” he said. “This will help us in our efforts to help at-risk and disadvantaged youths.”
Then, Gary Dudley, commission chair, asked those who had concerns to speak. About eight people took turns at the microphone. None of them spoke against the City installing an electronic message board somewhere in Signal Hill, but all of them strongly opposed placing it on Cherry Avenue near Hill Street. “The only entrance to our homes is that intersection,” said Lisa Gary, a member of the Promontory West Bluff Skyline Estates Homeowners Association. “Placing the sign there will increase the likelihood of one of us being injured by someone who is distracted by that sign.”
Other speakers talked about light pollution and reduced property values that would impact homes across the street from the proposed sign. Several residents suggested that the electronic message board be installed close to the corner of Willow Street and Cherry Avenue where no residences would be impacted.
Noll was one of the last speakers. He said that the City should have done more outreach earlier in the process, and he was not aware of residents’ concerns until recently. “I am not opposed to the sign, but the location is not good,” he said. “When you’re going to affect the lives of residents, you have to take that into consideration. In my opinion, the location is not acceptable.”
At the end of the workshop, all five commissioners agreed that the residents’ concerns about traffic safety, light pollution and property values must be considered. “We’ve heard enough today to know that we need to do more study and then come back,” Dudley said.
The commissioners voted unanimously to direct staff to undertake a study that addresses the residents’ concerns and to plan a second community workshop for the April commission meeting.

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Noll opposes locating electronic message board at SH Park; commission asks for further study