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Moraga Merchant Questions Signage Regulations

Lisa Colhoun writes with a question about signage requirements at the Rheem Valley Shopping Center.

Dear J.D. -

I am a merchant at the . When I opened a store in Moraga there was such drama around signage. For instance, it had to to meet a height and design restriction. On Monday when I drove to work I was stunned to see that has a sign that does not meet any of those restrictions.

How can it be that local merchants that are here because we live and work in the community are regulated and required to have our signs made in expensive, dated wooden, spray painted lettering in gold tone.

I think it's unfair that Home Goods, , and now the the Dollar Tree don't have to follow the same rules. And the Dollar Tree white lettering is totally cheesy!

I own a tiny hair salon next door to the theater and have been there for 15 years.  It was impossible for the space I have to create (unaffordable at the time) my name in wooden gold tone so I have no sign. I eventually had a neon sign made for inside the salon and was told by the town to remove it. However, I was within the regulations of it being 8 feet back from my entrance so they left me alone!

I eventually redecorated and am established but gosh I would love to have my name up in "lights," but probably not white paint!

Sincerely,

Lisa Colhoun,
Lisa Colhoun Design Co.

Larry Pines March 26, 2011 at 06:42 PM
Lisa, you (and all Moragans/Lamorindans) have my sympathy. We are stuck with a disinterested, dubiously competent, absentee owner/manager Kimco. The town government is so desirous of fresh revenue, that they have supported Kimco and Dollar Tree, and the Center continues its near-death spiral becoming the cheap discount paradise of the Area. I do quite a bit of shopping center/retail leasing in my Moraga law practice (not for Kimco!) and I can tell you that it is quite common to have two or more tiers of signage criteria in a large shopping center --- one for so-called anchor tenants, and others for (smaller) shops. The signage "programs" are written up in advance of development (or subsequent amendment) and submitted for approval to the regulating Municipality -- in this case, Moraga Planning. The Developer/owner/management of the center have the right to enforce the signage criteria, and the Town Planning Dept. has independent regulatory powers to enforce it as well, so long as the enforcement is not arbitrary and capricious. Exceptions have been made to make stores like Dollar Tree come in. I suggest that you look into this and see if an exception can be made for you too ! Best of luck in all your business endeavors and growth. It seems like you have been doing well even in the face of tough circumstances. Kudos. Larry Pines, Moraga, CA
Larry Tessler March 26, 2011 at 10:45 PM
What I learned from reading the article and comments above. I learned that the Dollar Tree sign doesn’t meet the sign ordinance requirements of the Moraga sign ordinance. I read that it is possible there are two sets of standards, one for some stores, one for the big stores. So, crazy thing to do, I know, but I read the ordinance 8.88.170. There are seven rules. Granted, I didn’t climb on a ladder with a measuring tape but it would appear the sign meets all the requirements of the ordinance. Oh, I don't like the bright white; my wife thinks it's terrific. We remain married.
Larry Tessler March 26, 2011 at 10:49 PM
And here is more I learned. I found out that Moraga residents by a 5:1 margin don't want dollar tree in our town. I looked up the survey to verify this "fact"... but wait, I can't find a survey. Maybe someone could direct me to it. I discovered too that if one doesn't like something he can boycott it. True. He or she can urge others to follow and boycott too. Sorry, I can't join that gang. I believe in free enterprise and I stand behind those who follow the rules. Dollar Tree, whether I like them or not, did follow the rules.
Larry Tessler March 26, 2011 at 11:03 PM
What further concerns me are the ongoing claims that Edy Schwartz as the Chamber of Commerce President was "the influential force behind the Dollar Tree application." This is absolutely untrue. She, like many of us, found out about Dollar Tree after the application was submitted. Further, regardless of earlier statements made in this paper regarding some real estate agent who claimed Ms. Schwartz went about town supporting Dollar Tree, I have personal knowledge that this too, is untrue. That this outstanding volunteer head of the Chamber whose sole purpose in serving is to support the Chamber's mission (to facilitate and promote the development of a sound business environment in the Town of Moraga) should have such unfounded claims made by people who should better is outrageous to me.
Larry Tessler March 26, 2011 at 11:14 PM
And finally, why, for goodness sake, would Kimco "care less about "community concerns, values, interests and desires"? Is there some sort of disconnect between corporate profits and customer service that I'm missing here? Frankly, I'm pleased that Kimco has taken Prudential out of the picture. This is a layer of distant oversight now taken out of the picture. Kimco is now free to pursue tenants. And to help them are three more dedicated individuals heading up a new community minded economic development group that has your best interests and mine in mind as they go about the goal of figuring out just what it is we all want and how this goal can be achieved. People, Kimco may be responsible for what the Rheem Center is today...but not solely. Look in the mirror folks. If you have lived here 35 years as I have you will have seen dozens of the small businesses we all covet disappear from Moraga. Why? Could it be that we didn't support them?
Dennis Wanken March 27, 2011 at 02:28 AM
One writer states that he had "personal knowledge....that this is untrue" that Edy Schwartz (current president of the Moraga Chamber of Commerce) had not supported the approval of the Dollar Tree store application. Excuse me for being perplexed. On one hand, I thought the purpose of the Moraga Chamber of Commerce was to promote "...the development of sound business environment in the Town of Moraga". On the other hand, the writer states by his "personal knowledge" that the Moraga Chamber of Commerce in the persona of its current President Edy Schwartz did not support this establishment of this particular business. So, which is it ? Does the Moraga Chamber of Commerce support new business or not ?
Larry Tessler March 27, 2011 at 05:17 AM
This is correct, Mr. Wanken. I do have personal knowledge that Edy Schwartz did not, as you say, act as "... the influential force behind the Dollar Tree application and approval by the Moraga Town Council." If you have personal knowledge that disputes my claim, please let me know. Please note that the Dollar Tree as a member of our business community will receive Chamber support now that it is actually established as a business in Moraga. The Chamber is dedicated to supporting the businesses in Moraga and its leadership led by Ms. Schwartz over these past three years has done a find job in creating that base of support. The Chamber purposely did NOT take a position on the DT application for there was no consensus among the members for such support. However, once the application was approved the Chamber's position became true to its mission as noted earlier. It's not my nature to be cantankerous, to be closed minded, to criticize others for their beliefs and positions. There are ways two sides to any story. I appreciate your position. Where facts are available, however, I bow to them. I would hope you would see your way to stand up and acknowledge that your statements criticizing Ms. Schwartz on the DT matter were incorrect and that you would offer her a sincere apology. Thank you. And again, in the interest of full disclosure, I am a Vice-President for the Board of Directors of the Chamber.
Dennis Wanken March 27, 2011 at 06:37 AM
Mr. Tessler, I can appreciate your personal opinion as well as your position on the Moraga Chamber of Commerce. However, I am still perplexed as to whether or not individual officers/directors/members of the Moraga Chamber of Commerce supported the application of the Dollar Tree store prior to approval by the Moraga Planning Commission and the Moraga Town Council. Such support would include ex parte contacts with any employees/commission members/elected officials of the Town of Moraga. Seems like a simple enough question. In the interest of full disclosure, I welcome critical debate and dialogue of any of my facts, viewpoints, and opinions. However, based on my facts and information, I stand by my comments. Thank you.
Larry Tessler March 27, 2011 at 07:23 AM
Frankly, Mr. Wanken, I am struggling to make myself more clear. Try this: The Chamber at large nor the Board as a body specifically offered any official opinion, directly or indirectly, on the viability of DT coming to town. Reasons:1) The Chamber and its members were unaware of any interest by DT in Moraga until the application was filed 2) No poll was taken of the membership to gain a consensus on what quickly became a controversial matter in town. 3) It was not in the best interests of the business community to divide the Chamber members on the application issue. 4) There were no Chamber restrictions given, suggested or implied to any member as members or as individuals on what their position could or should be. For an answer to your question, yes, I'm sure there were individual members of the Chamber that supported the application prior to approval and some that strongly disagreed. Perhaps you heard a few speak at the Town Council meetings. As a citizen of the town, as a former business person, as a volunteer SCORE counselor to small business people, as a supporter of free enterprise (let the market decide) I supported the application. This is a principled position and says nothing about whether I will or will not shop this store. As for the rest of members, you'll have to poll them to find out what their position might have been. Again, I would ask you to apologize to Edy Schwartz for your incorrect statement of her position. It is the civil thing to do.
CJ March 27, 2011 at 03:29 PM
I am apalled at the comments against Dollar Tree in this thread. So many so called educated folks up in arms over exactly what? A legitimate and successful retailer coming into a retail ghetto that apparently has in the past, had all the coveted "small businesses " but through the towns own apathy or the reality that many of those stores they covet weren't smart enough retailers or failed to offer the services the residents needed so they went elsewhere. What I suspect is that some of the wanna-be elite's around here are having to face the reality THEY have cretaed and instead of waiting to see if a viable business can survive here would rather create a class based lynch mob to insure the failure of DT to prove their point. The only problem is they don't really have one except their own class warfare they want to impose on others. Here's a suggestion. Let DT invest the $500K+ it takes to open a store of this type anywhere and if you don't want to shop there......well then don't. Go to wherever you want. If they survive and are profitable, bravo. If not , your empty retail ghetto becomes available again for you to "approve" who moves in. Be careful for what you wish for....you just amy get it.
bryan March 27, 2011 at 04:15 PM
And we're supposed to give the key to the city to a corporation just because they have built a niche out of marketing and selling schlock and have amassed billions in the process? Legitimate and successful retailer, ok, let's get Dow Chemical in here, a Chevron refinery, or how about Colt firearms? They've built legitimate and successful businesses, too - sort of.
Lafayette Curmudgeon March 27, 2011 at 04:28 PM
But, CJ, if we just tap our shoes together and say three times: I want it to be like Fourth Street, I want it to be like Fourth Street, I want it to be like Fourth Street...
Lafayette Curmudgeon March 28, 2011 at 02:54 PM
JD - think someone could get up a photo of the offending signage? (Of course, that I'm not really motivated to go do an errands in Rheem in order to take a look at the sign sort of suggests the origin of the problem).
J.D. O'Connor (Editor) March 28, 2011 at 03:35 PM
Morning LafCurMudge. Anyone who snaps a photo of the signage may upload it to the story and we had hoped to swing by, as well.
Jackie March 28, 2011 at 04:22 PM
A voice of reason. Thanks, Larry.
Chris Nicholson March 28, 2011 at 04:38 PM
There is a secret way to silently influence the kinds of retail establishments that get built / succeed: buy what you want, where you want and from whom you want. Also, encourage city leaders to not interfere too much. If the vast majority of folks hate DT and won't shop there, then it won't be there too long. If you liked the old stores, you should have shopped there more.
Zoe Claire March 28, 2011 at 04:46 PM
Normally I would agree with the vote with your wallet sentiment. But I also happen to feel that we are getting that "retail ghetto" image someone else mentioned with several stores here now offering items of dubious quality and also, apparently, attracting a criminal element to the area. I know that may not be a popular thing to say to some in Moraga right now but it is there.
Dennis Wanken March 28, 2011 at 05:26 PM
My issue, as well as Ms. Calhoun's, is the EQUAL application of current regulations within the Town of Moraga. As a voice for commerce within Moraga, the Chamber of Commerce is the "go to" advocacy group for such an issue. As such, influence in the form of personal and/or written communications to appropriate in an integral part of the mission of a group such as the Chamber of Commerce. As a member of the California and United States Chamber of Commerce, I certainly expect these advocacy groups to work in my business's interests. In personal communications with members of the Moraga Chamber of Commerce as well as its president, I was left with no doubt that this influence was being exerted. The readers of this debate can draw their own conclusions be it good or bad. Influence exertion is part and parcel of the public policy process. Given this information, no apology will be forthcoming or necessary. Mr. Tessler, I certainly appreciate your candor and patience in your previous postings. In fact, we are more in agreement than you think regarding small business advocacy. For the record, I would like to know the position of the Moraga Chamber of Commerce with respect to the development of single family homes in Moraga. As these developers provide needed jobs, purchase a multitude of materials, and pay taxes what is the Chamber's position for let's say Rancho Laguna 2 ?
CJ March 28, 2011 at 05:46 PM
If the Real Estate and demographics/density were attractive to retailers you'd have a line at KIMCO to lease these spaces. But you don't. You(peple who go to these meetings and protest the application) persist in medling with what the owners would like to do with the space, as if you know anything about the industry(you don't ). The folks who go to these meetings and vote with their emotions and fears are the real problem in why there is a dearth of occupants of the quality you would like to have. Stop insisting the tired old rundown theatre reamain. Stop making a fit whenever a successful chain store wants to move in. Once you have full occupancy filling in spaces vacated by bad ideas and execution are easy to fill. But communities over controlling the CUP process is why many good retailers avoid it like the plague. Dollar Tree has real cajones to come here with the nonsense and vitiol tossed at them during the process.
Zoe Claire March 28, 2011 at 06:16 PM
Yes by all means you meddlesome residents with no understanding of what you want or the type of store you'd like to get it from. Let the DEVELOPERS and the strip mall operators and the CAPTAINS of INDUSTRY and commerce decide what's best for us. Dusty old theater? Knock it down! So what if it's the only interesting landmark left in Moraga?? Dollar Tree? Yes - and more like them. I'll take a .99 cent tube of toothpaste over a good meal or a grocer any day.
Chris Nicholson March 28, 2011 at 06:31 PM
If tenants and the landlord could profitably provide another restaurant or a grocery store, they would. Why would they conspire to open stores that would fail to attract customers? Who does that help? It would be great if Lamorinda's retail spaces were fully occupied, such that we could pick and choose the best among many good applicants. But the opposite is true. Would you prefer that the DT space be left vacant? Issues such as "look and feel," historical sentiment, elitism, etc. are all good and valid concerns--- but they cost money. Who should pay?
Sherry March 28, 2011 at 06:35 PM
If you think this issue is over the top, you should have seen it when (gasp!) Starbucks was considering coming to Moraga. You would have thought a strip bar was coming to town.
CJ March 28, 2011 at 06:45 PM
Zoe- What you and other fail to recognize is that businesses only move and INVEST where they think they have the potential to make money. I am in the retail business (corporate side-not any related to this discussion) and can assure you that a fully leased and successful shopping center is a MUCH more desireable loaction for any upscale retailer. The fact that there is many leaseable spaces for rent is a HUGE flag to those of us in RE Acquisitions and Facilities. We tend to avoid those places like the plague. Ever notice how many retailers /food establishments and other businesses seem to all end up in the same centers? Do you think that is by some previously agreed on secret backroom meeting? No. They know whos demo fits theirs and they seek common centers to join in on the success. KIMCO (who I deal with occasionlly) is a fine and very upscale developer. They do not make deals typically with DT and other discounters if they can avoid it for the simple reason they want to get the MAX rent per SF available. DT would not have paid top lease rates. KIMCO is desperate to fill space as they are eating ROI daily in this retail ghetto. At some point you have to get some traction and just fill the holes. Then once they get the center going can INVEST (see there's that word again) in improvements that would make everyone happy.
CJ March 28, 2011 at 06:45 PM
The theatre is a DEAD business model as it exists today and nothing short of a demolish and rebuild with 12 screens will change that. Do you drive a 1930's era car as a daily driver? Why would you think that a theatre owner would want that either? The free market will eventually fix it all, but you have to stop meddling. This the same thing this Government we now are suffering through insists on doing and is failing miserably. Believing in the market forces will always lead to WINNING! Always.
Dennis Wanken March 28, 2011 at 08:04 PM
In response to Zoe Claire, what is the difference between CVS and Dollar Tree ? Answer - not much. Both sell a large variety of deeply discounted retail items. While it is nice to renovate and maintain nostaglic monuments to our past, the Rheem Theatre has somehow mutated into a meeting/dance venue/theatre. I would have preferred making it into a museum to the history of filmmaking, acting, and dramatic arts. Somehow after the attraction of the dance hall/meeting venue has worn off, I feel that Rheem Theatre will become a ward of the taxpapyers and their unlimited taxpayer subsidies. CJ is quite correct is his assertion that market forces should determine what mix and type of retail establishments exist and flourish in Moraga.
Larry Tessler March 28, 2011 at 10:57 PM
Not sure what specific influence you are speaking of. Perhaps you could fill me it. I'll tell you what. Instead of speculating on the Chamber how about joining us? It's far easier to speak with the members in this manner. And please remember, individual members can say whatever they want. They don't, however, necessarily speak for the Chamber itself. We are governed by by-laws and policy ultimately comes from the board. Or, if you'd prefer to see what's going on first hand I'd like to invite you to a membership meeting. On Friday morning May 20 at the Hacienda our speaker will be an expert on social networking. We begin at 7:30 am with a half hour of socializing. The meetings are over promptly at 9:00 am. I joined as a citizen member at at modest cost $50 per year. I've since stepped this membership up to $100 so I could promote my "business" which is as a volunteer counselor to small businesses for the national organization SCORE. If you join, you will be able to come to any of the board meetings if this is of interest to you. You can find our application at www.moragachamber.org. Click on Chamber and then on Join. If you want to talk about this, I am in the phone book. As for your question on the development of single family homes in Moraga, we have no position. We will, however, support businesses who have legal authority to build here. We have members who are construction company owners, painters and landscapers. We support them as we do all of our members.
Larry Tessler March 28, 2011 at 11:08 PM
One small correction. We no longer have an old run-down theater. In part due to the efforts of Edy Schwartz and the Chamber we now have a wonderful "new" theater. Check out the new seating upstairs, some new projectors and, I think, at least one new screen. the place is clean and a lot of new painting has been done inside. Hey, they are even beginning to serve food. In addition to all the first rate movies now being shown there are wonderful events also scheduled. Know a teenager? Ask him/her about the community dances. Beau Behan, the new general manager is very approachable. Derek Zemrek, who founded the California Independent Film Festival moved it to Moraga for the first time in 13 years. Guess what? It was the most successful festival in the CAIFF's history!
Sara March 28, 2011 at 11:18 PM
There's nothing wrong with these businesses on an individual basis... but when you bring them all together into a mall environment I would say you've just created the low rent ghetto others have complained about. If that's the plan here then ok but I'll do my shopping elsewhere thanks. And I would prefer to shop locally but aside from the theater theres very little to hold our interest.
Dennis Wanken March 28, 2011 at 11:52 PM
Larry, thank you for your very kind invitation to join the Moraga Chamber of Commerce. First, I do not have a business in Moraga. Second, I already several businesses I currently operate which require my attention in this increasingly demanding market. Third, given my viewpoints on issues in our community, I seriously doubt that my views would be considered for any meaningful policy decisions. As you have taken me to task for broaching the mention of criticizing the president of the Moraga Chamber of Commerce, who am I to question "the emperor's new clothes" ? As you are a veteran of the retail industry, you know there are many sides to a story. For the purposes of this debate, I do not share the same adorement of this person as others do. I see the emperor for who this person really is or shall I say was personally conveyed to me. However, thank you for the invitation. It was very welcoming and considerate. In closing, I think we should focus on the original issue of equal application of the sign ordinance and fair play for existing members of the Moraga business community.
Larry Tessler March 29, 2011 at 12:53 AM
I appreciate your busy position. I would like to reiterate that one can join as a citizen member and never attend a meeting if one wishes. We do lots of good things to promote business here in Moraga. Perhaps you will be able to attend 5th annual Community Faire on May 14 in the Rheem Center. Your sense of whether your views will be listened to or weighed is, of course, better than mine. I would just hope that we aren't so small that we wouldn't listen with an open mind. Nevertheless, I respect your choice. On the sign issue. I have given you the ordinance that governs signing here in Moraga. It doesn't appear that DT got some sort of special dispensation on their signing. If they did, well, it shouldn't difficult to find out. Moraga has a planning department as well as a volunteer design review board. I'm pretty sure you can find someone who would be willing to hear you out. I'm sorry, I can't resist a parting comment with respect to your claim of knowing Edy Schwartz and her various views. Perhaps you do. But I would caution taking the word of others who say they "know" what Edy does or doesn't do or think without actually verifying the claims with Edy yourself. I haven't taken you to task. I have taken your claims to task. There is a difference. Edy welcomes criticism as do I. We both have thick skins. You've heard my claims: you've heard what others claim. Talk to Edy and then decide before you publish. Thank you.

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