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City Council receptive to banning alcohol, tobacco signs

With the exception of comments from the Sunnyside's Promise group, the public hearing at Monday night's Sunnyside City Council meeting dealing with a new sign ordinance met with little fanfare.

The public hearing on Monday was part of a requirement city officials had to meet after enacting a moratorium on the installation of any new signs following the Jan. 24 Council meeting. The moratorium was a direct response to the actions of local contractor Tom Paul, who had erected several signs on his property across from Bi-Mart pointing out what he perceived as faults with the city government.

Council was presented with a draft signage ordinance at Monday night's meeting.

Council is required to take some sort of action at the end of the 90-day moratorium, which will effectively end by the April 25 Council meeting. Sunnyside City Manager Bob Stockwell said if staff needs an extension to complete the sign ordinance the request will come before Council at the April 25 meeting. Stockwell added that the city has had very few issues dealing with businesses since the moratorium has been in place.

The heart of the sign ordinance is anticipated to be heavily discussed at the Wednesday, April 13, Sunnyside Planning Commission meeting. The planning commission is expected to dig into the sign ordinance issue and make a recommendation to Council.

At this past Monday's Council meeting, Sunnyside's Promise Vice Chairman John Hughes, who is also the safe and effective schools director for the Sunnyside School District, brought forth a prepared statement.

He said Sunnyside's Promise recently agreed to tackle the issue of advertising tobacco and alcohol products at convenience stores located adjacent to school district facilities. Sunnyside's Promise was approached to join the cause by the Sunnyside School District.

"The members of Sunnyside's Promise request that the City Council place controls on the public advertising of tobacco and alcohol products within the city limits of Sunnyside," Hughes read from the letter. "We recognize that the absence of advertising these products will not totally stop their consumption by youth. However, we do feel that the absence of public advertising of tobacco and alcohol products will reduced the enticement to our youth to obtain these products.

"The absence of advertising will also reduce the perception of the ready availability of these products and their use as being socially acceptable or even socially excepted behavior," Hughes continued as several school district representatives sat in the audience.

Hughes continued to read from the letter, citing how the community has a responsibility for the health and safety of the youth.

"Our youth naturally strive to follow the examples set by the adults, their mentors, in our community," read Hughes. "We are their role models for behavior whether it is our intention to be or not. Perhaps if the leadership of Sunnyside takes a public stand against the advertising of these products we will save a significant number of our young people from the misery these products cause."

Councilwoman Bengie Aguilar changed the subject for a minute, asking Stockwell if the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce has been providing input on the sign ordinance. Stockwell didn't indicate the chamber had been, but said it is critical to have the involvement of the chamber and to hear from local businesses about the sign ordinance.

Councilman Paul Garcia agreed with the need to have as much input from the businesses as possible on the sign ordinance.

"We have to make sure we don't alienate our business folks," said Garcia.

Garcia asked Assistant City Manager/City Attorney Mark Kunkler if other cities have been legally challenged regarding their sign ordinances. Kunkler said there have been court cases where cities have been challenged.

Councilman Bruce Ricks, who has long championed to rid the community of alcohol and tobacco advertising, applauded the efforts of the school district. He also said that he wished the school district had been on board a bit earlier when he was trying to have Council address the issue a few years ago. Ricks said it boils down to a quality of life issue and he believes the sign ordinance the city is working on will address that matter.

"This is a really good ordinance," said Ricks. "It is heavy handed."

Ricks pointed out the need for a sign ordinance, citing the many derogatory signs that sit on Paul's property along South First Street.

"We don't have a law that says you can't do that," said Ricks. "I hope our planning commission stays strong."

Mayor Ed Prilucik ended the discussion by voicing his endorsement of the efforts of Sunnyside's Promise and agreed that the Council should help with the issue as much as state law allows.

"We should head down that path," said Prilucik.

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