Poway's car dealers want to be able to use bigger banners, signs and searchlights to bring in new customers, but concerns about sightlines, quality of life and the looming presence of a giant, inflatable gorilla have given city leaders pause.
Relaxing city signage regulations temporarily was the topic of a Poway City Council workshop on Tuesday that gave rise to debates about effective marketing, balancing business' and residents' needs and making sure the city generates enough revenue to cover rising costs.
"We want the businesses to succeed, but we also have people who live along Poway Road and we need to satisfy both," Councilman Dave Grosch said.
City staff presented examples of several options that would, for a test year, expand the ways car dealers along Poway Road could attract customers, from flashier displays such as large inflatable gorillas and searchlights to basic measures like lightpole signs and suspended banners.
Staff emphasized that these were just examples, though the gorilla—a massive figure customers are likely to have seen elsewhere in the county—attracted many comments as a symbol of a how Poway could cross a line expanding the rules and threaten the quality of life here.
"Over time you will wind up compromising your way to chaos," resident Peter DeHoff said.
Current city regulations limit many of the overt displays, such as searchlights, to special occasions like grand openings and a few weekends per year. But proposals discussed during Tuesday's workshop would increase the number of days such displays could be used and expand the purposes that would be acceptable.
One possibility discussed was allowing dealers to use elaborate displays not just during grand openings, but also over the Fourth of July and a trio of other weekends during the year.
But what worried some councilmembers was the reality that if the rules are changed, they wouldn't apply to just car dealers; other businesses, such as Walmart or liquor stores might be able to use the leeway to their advantage as well.
City staff said they were still determing how to limit the scope of who can operate under the expanded rules without running afoul of equitable use rules.
Councilman Steve Vaus also questioned how effective the extra signs and banners are in generating sales.
"Is there any empirical evidence that suggests that tents and banners and giant inflatables enhance sales?" he asked.
Longtime car dealer Jerry Richardson said they do.
Inflatable slides attract families in to the dealership and, while the children play, their parents get deals done, Richardson said.
He added that dealers are "handcuffed" in Poway with the restrictions, especially considering dealers throughout the rest of the county are able to do more.
Council members discussed whether Poway, being several miles inland from the freeway, is indeed competing with dealerships that line the freeway with massive advertising displays.
Staff is expected to come back with further details at the Feb. 5 meeting.
Stay tuned for more on this topic.