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The most recent court defeat over massive wall signs at Westfield's UTC Shopping Mall in La Jolla occurred yesterday, October 31.

In a tentative ruling (expected to be made final today), superior-court judge Timothy Taylor sided with San Diegans for Open Government, a watchdog group that filed the lawsuit.

In his ruling, Taylor found the city failed to notify the public about a proposal from Westfield to install 672-foot illuminated wall signs — nearly double the size allowed in the municipal code — on buildings throughout the property.

"The public hearing notice for the Project was untimely by one day under the [San Diego Municipal Code]," reads Taylor's tentative ruling.

"In addition, the public hearing notice for the Project was untimely under Code of Civil Procedure section because it left just nine business days, not the required ten, between the date of the notice's publication and the date of the public hearing.... By failing to give proper public-hearing notice, the City abused its discretion."

The decision opens the door for additional hearings over visual and traffic impacts from the signs. Those hearings may result in the city having to pull the permits.

"This renders the environmental approval of the Project null and void," wrote Taylor in his ruling. "That approval is therefore set aside."

The city's 30-year-old sign ordinance has come under assault over the course of this past year, and not just at the University City shopping mall. Lobbying disclosures filed by the company show the shopping-mall operator has been lobbying city officials to allow for brighter and larger billboards and signs in Mission Valley as well as UTC.

Other groups have also jumped on the bandwagon. Denver-based FinWater Advisors joined forces with the Downtown San Diego Partnership to strike down the ordinance in a 65-block area in order to bring an "Arts and Entertainment District" to downtown. If created, the area would be lit up by what are now illegal neon signs, illuminated billboards, off-site advertising, and art installations.

Update: Judge Timothy Taylor made his decision final on November 5, 2013. He ruled that the city failed to provide proper notice for the meeting. This from Taylor's judgement:

"The City properly insists on exacting compliance with deadlines when it is the beneficiary of them (e.g. the claims filing statutes under Govt. Code section 911.2 et seq.). The public has the right to expect that the City will show equal respect for timing deadlines when it is the party burdened by them."

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Comments

aardvark Nov. 1, 2013 @ 1:28 p.m.

A question--in the article above, shouldn't it say 672 square foot signs? 672 feet is a REALLY big sign.

2

Matt101 Nov. 1, 2013 @ 4:22 p.m.

You're right. The code permits signage up to 350 square feet in area. Westfield wants to install a 672 square-foot sign "along the Genesee Avenue Frontage of the Westfield UTC Shopping Center located at the Southeast corner of Genesee Avenue and La Jolla Village Drive", according to the City approval given to UTC, dated November 28, 2012.

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Dorian Hargrove Nov. 1, 2013 @ 8:38 p.m.

Thanks Aardvark and Matt101. Sorry for not making that clear. And you're right, a 672 foot sign would be one for the record books.-dH

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Visduh Nov. 1, 2013 @ 8:14 p.m.

From its inception, UTC was supposed to carry an upscale image, and many of the stores there claimed they were in "La Jolla", even though they were not. I'd have supposed that the redevelopment plans for that mall would have been to emphasize its location in "The Golden Triangle", the recognized hub of affluence in San Diego County. Frankly, it is ideally placed to take advantage of that affluence. The obvious conclusion would be that Westfield would emphasize the snootiness of the operation, a la Rodeo Drive or South Coast Plaza or Century City or Scottsdale.

But no, they want to light it up Las Vegas style with more garish lighted displays. Can't their well-heeled potential clientele find it otherwise? I mean, it's just next to La Jolla, isn't it? Could it be that Westfield has never had a spot with the chi-chi appeal of the Golden Triangle and just doesn't grasp how the market expects its mall to look? Maybe the lessons that Westfield learned in Sacramento, Bakersfield and the San Fernando Valley just don't translate to the area. How droll that would be.

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