Sign rules not good for business, dealerships say

A view looking north on Chestnut Street at the dealership signs.

Editor’s note: The 2012 class of Leadership Gilroy hung out at the Dispatch Friday and worked on reporting a story and taking photos. Read their story below.

Gilroy car dealership owners are asking the city to make an exception for them in the current sign ordinance, which says that businesses within the city are not allowed to advertise with balloons, pennants and flags or other objects “designed to flap in the wind.”

Car dealership owners say enforcement of the sign ordinance could hurt a dealership’s ability to increase consumer traffic and make it difficult to compete with dealers in neighboring cities who do not have such restrictions.

“Really, all we’re asking them to do is modify our ordinance in Gilroy to match our competitors,” said Leonard Harrington, owner of South County Nissan Hyandai.

These “competitors” include Morgan Hill, San Jose, Salinas, Los Gatos, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale and Watsonville.  

“You have to create excitement to attract attention and balloons and pennants do that,” Harrington said. According to him, that’s why the Auto Mall is located where it is. Harrington said he wants to be part of the solution rather than the problem.  

The ordinance, which has been in place since 1983, was a recent a hot topic for city council members and business owners alike. “All I know is that one day a guy in a little truck came by and wrote us up,” says Harrington.  

At the council’s January retreat, the seven members added the sign ordinance as a topic for further discussion. Now, in March, it’s back in their purview.

City Administrator Tom Haglund said that about four months ago a letter was sent to all business owners in Gilroy informing them about the sign ordinance as part of an “education campaign.”

Local business owner and mayoral candidate Dion Bracco agrees that the sign ordinance is needed to keep things in good taste and that safety issues should be one reason for sign enforcement.

“Telling people how to run their businesses is wrong. We need less government, not more.”

Adam Sanchez, owner of the Milias Restaurant on Monterey Street, echoes Harrington’s thoughts regarding signs driving traffic to car dealerships. 

He and his father owned Al Sanchez Mazda for more than 30 years. 

“We were the biggest tax base in Gilroy for years. I would be extremely upset if I was still in the car business and they said I couldn’t have balloons on the weekend. If we push them (the dealerships) too hard, they’ll move to Morgan Hill.” 

The city is hosting a study session April 30 at 6 p.m. at council chambers. As for Harrington, it’s business as usual. His plan is to hang his balloons Saturday morning and then take them down on Sunday as he’s always done.

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