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City Beautification: Calling Out the Sign Police

It took one phone call for Rancho Santa Margarita to remove dozens of signs that created visual blight and confusion for motorists.

Brad McGirr drove past them every day. The more he saw them, the more irritated he became. They had infested his neighborhood near Arroyo Vista School. They were a visual blight and a distraction, and McGirr wanted them gone.

They were the signs in the neighborhood that told residents where they could turn, where they could park, how fast they could go, to beware of this and beware of that.

So McGirr did something about it, and learned just how fast things could really get done in Rancho Santa Margarita. 

McGirr, who had been a planning commissioner for the city for less than a year, contacted City Hall in September and sought out Bill Lawson, Rancho Santa Margarita's traffic engineer.

He expected to leave a voicemail. Instead, Lawson answered his phone. Then he told McGirr, "Let's take a ride."

The result was the prompt removal of dozens of signs and poles throughout the city, making it look fresher and less confusing.

McGirr and Lawson—notebook and camera in hand—cruised the streets, McGirr pointing out his concerns for "the unsightly, redundant and confusing" signs, Lawson documenting them.

"Some might say that I'm rather compulsive about these things," McGirr said, "but I want our city to look great. In my mind, redundant signs and litter are a visual blight."

Lawson agreed, saying that many signs that McGirr pointed out were "legacy items" that had never been removed as the community matured. Several were signs associated with intersections that existed before signals were installed.

Many signs were corner intersection and through-street identification signs when the mast arms supporting traffic signals also displayed the through street and cross street information.

"The more we looked, the more we realized those redundant signs were everywhere," Lawson said.

"I'm a firm believer that less is more when it comes to signs and traffic control. When you have too much, people ignore it. In certain areas of our city, there were signs everywhere, and a lot of those signs are flat-out not necessary."

At least 41 corner street identificatin signs and their poles were removed after Lawson examined the 52 signalized intersections.

McGirr was particularly irked about the large number of "No Stopping" signs surrounding Arroyo Vista School that he found redundant. But he also noted that there were traffic signs—lots of them—throughout the city that didn't seem to make much sense. "One Way" signs on Banderas, contradictory speed limit signs a few yards from each other, and enough signs in front of Serra Catholic School to get the Angels through the entire baseball season.

Within days, Lawson had arranged for the removal of:  

  • 3 "No Stopping" signs on Las Mesitas.
  • 4 street signs (with poles) located on two corners of Las Mesitas and Arroyo Vista.
  • 1 speed limit sign on Arroyo Vista (a 30 mph sign located not more than 50 ft from a 25 mph sign).
  • 1 bike lane sign and pole at the corner of Arroyo Vista and Banderas.
  • 1 street sign and pole at the corner of Arroyo Vista and Banderas.
  • 1 "Right Turn Only" sign at Arroyo Vista and Banderas.
  • 4 "One Way" signs on Banderas, from Arroyo Vista park to the corner of Antonio and Banderas.  

"When I called Bill Lawson," McGirr recalled, "I didn't expect to get that kind of response."

All of which makes McGirr think that Lawson is person of the year material.

"He went above and beyond the call of duty," McGirr said. "His response was very impressive. The areas where these signs have been removed look great.

"There is far less visual clutter, there are fewer visual obstructions for motorists and pedestrians, and it just flat out looks nicer. Some like to complain about city staff, bureaucratic red tape, etc., but it took only one call from me, a frustrated resident, for Bill to get up and get this done. He deserves a pat on the back."

J.P. July 09, 2012 at 05:35 PM
Congratulations to Mr. McGirr and to Mr. Lawson for all your efforts on behalf of our City. My family loves living in this beautiful and safe community and we appreciate and recognize it takes a lot of hard work from dedicated people to make it that way. Keep up the good work!
Terry J. July 09, 2012 at 06:54 PM
planning commish makes a call, and most certainly he gets a direct immediate response. I have called and submitted thru the city web site a request to get the dangerous cracks in my Terramonte street, which could be an injury liabillity to the city, properly repaired and I do not receive a call back or the proper repairs made. T
R. Freedman July 09, 2012 at 07:26 PM
Mr. McGirr and Mr. Lawson, how nice it is to see people actually DO something good for the city rather than just talk about it. You both deserve thanks and congratulations.
Lawrence (Larry) McCook July 09, 2012 at 08:34 PM
Bill Lawson is an incredibly great traffic planner and a major asset to our city! It is about time that he is receiving due credit!
Brad McGirr July 10, 2012 at 03:01 AM
Hi Terry...I live in the Terramonte neighborhood as well. I knew of a large crack in the asphalt on Sepulveda, but that was repaired within one week after the city was notified of the problem. Where are the cracks that have concerned you? Please feel free to contact me at Brad@McGirr.com. I would be more than happy to do whatever I can to help.
A.E. July 10, 2012 at 05:51 AM
It's wonderful about the traffic signs but what about the major eyesore affecting this city, illegal banners & lawn signs that are popping up everywhere. What's being done about those?
JB July 11, 2012 at 08:37 AM
Among the first things I noticed when I relocated to California just over 3 years ago is the lack of speed-limit signs. My son noticed it too, when he got his driver's license. The lack of Stop Signs at intersections is confusing, too. Are drivers just expected to stop? I'm asking because I've had more than a few near-misses due to drivers not stopping before proceeding into a thoroughfare. We're going to begin seeing lots of political signs this election year, but I'd really like to see more accurate speed-limit signs, not only in RSM, but all over the OC.
Mike Proctor July 11, 2012 at 06:16 PM
You know you live in a well managed, safe city, when all there is to worry about is signs, banners, and lawn signs. LOL

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