Thursday, May 21, 2009

Cooper City Sign Code Workshop Synopsis

The Cooper City Commission held a sign code workshop this afternoon at 4 PM at Cooper City hall. First, I want to thank the members of the Business Advisory Board and the Planning and Zoning Board for their participation in the process of bringing the Commission the issues that are of concern to this evening's sign code workshop.

Actually, the Commission and the P&Z board have had numerous meetings since the P&Z's inception regarding sign codes. Also, the P&Z Board has also gone over this issue many, many times in the past 7 or 8 years. At this point, I don’t feel it is the P&Z Board’s job to figure out what is wrong with the sign code, if indeed anything is wrong with it at all.

The issues are really quite simple…You have a very small business interest that wants to have new or different 'looking' signs, and you have vast residential interests that want our community to remain a bedroom community, who would like to see almost no signs at all.

Some on this commission apparently have indicated that there were some particular business interests that they had heard from, and they would like those interests to be addressed, yet those specific concerns were not laid on the table for any real specificity except for one or two issues, one being an 'open' [for business] sign and the other a 'monument' type sign.

One of two aforesaid issues on addressing the specific problem, along with giving a specific directive to come back to the Commission with a proposed change for a vote, was that of an ‘open’ [for business] sign not being forced to be 4 or 5 feet back from the front window of an establishment, which was the only real issue at hand this afternoon. There has not been any desire to make any significant changes to signage because apparently the city, the P&Z Board and everyone else, likes things just the way they are.

There hasn’t been a sign waiver variance request in the past few years to my knowledge. When someone requests a variance, we as a city, can indeed cause excessive wastes of time and money as it is. The system process is grossly inefficient to some, but the wheels do turn albeit slowly. My opinion is that the P&Z Board should handle sign changes, approving variances on an as needed basis and forward their decision to the Commisison for approval. I don’t know of any business owner that has not received approval on any variance when they have properly applied for it, as long as they agreed to comply with the rules, policy and procedures set in place.

There is absolutely nothing happening in this City, either from a development or a business aspect, which is compelling the Commisison to make any changes to the sign code. There is also no specific reason for this Commission to have asked the P&Z Board to re-review our sign codes, and to try and figure out what we need to change and why, and then convey that info to us. I believe that we don’t need to change anything at this time.

Asking the P&Z Board to re-review the waiver, or variance process, may be the only applicable and valid directive, but this Commission does not need to micromanage the proces or the sign code, which in doing so, may ultimately open up a lot of issues (i.e., Pandora's Box) which will ultimately create more political controversy and dissention on the dais. I don’t believe that we know what we, as a Commission, want in regards to sign code changes, if any. If so, the previous discussion(s), issues and subsequent directive(s) would have been clear and concise, of which they were not.

I think the economy alone, and possibly one or two Commissioners/Mayor, may be the driving political force on this non-issue. We have a code that works! If somebody wants to change what we have, simply because they want a different kind of sign or something else, then let them petition the P&Z Board with a request for a variance or a waiver. Seeing that there is no major development in the near future, no request for variances, no specific complaints so as to justify changing the code and avoiding more pressing issues that we should be addressing, there is no reason to do this at this time.

The city has rcently spent hours upon hours going through the sign code, even to the point of debating this afternoon and showing the Commisison what other cities do versus what Cooper City should do. It’s not about what other cities do. It's about what our stakeholders want and a valid municipal purpose. We decided to save $350,000+ of our tax dollars because it didn’t make sense to re-write the land use codes in this current financial environment. As such, it does not make sense to needlessly re-write the sign codes.

This issue should be an extension of that previous land use directive, yet the sign issue is continually being pressed. We have spent a lot of time to get to the point of where we started at...the sign code does not need to be re-written. There is currently a specific and detailed remedy and process in place for those residents and business owners who seem to require a variance from the existing code, or for those who want an 'open' sign up against the window.

I believe the sign code issue is a non-issue at this juncture, and unless someone can give specific and compelling reasons why we should change the sign codes rather than approve variances, I will vote against any changes outside of simple sign code amendments placed on the agenda. We need to address more pertinent issues such as the loss of pension funds of $1,415,475 in October, and another $438,573 in November, for a total of about a $4M loss, and we need figure out the funds eventual replenishment (yes, we are on the hook for that amount folks), the loss of about $5M in unrestricted reserves, a 23% budget increase, among other serious issues forthwith.

We have the cash in the bank to bring the General Employees Pension Fund to 'par', yet the Mayor, and Comissioner De Jesus felt that was not the answer. The city would not be "throwing good money after bad" (Quote by the Mayor) if it made timely contributions to push the plan back into 'parity' and bring it up to a good vesting ratio. It seems that the employee pension fund has recently made good profit on interest bearing investments such as CD's, Treasuries and high grade corporate and municipal bonds.

When I heard those two on the commission questioning, at our last meeting, why they should put money into the fund when it is very likely to lose value, my thoughts were that either they had not read the data provided by the City Manager or the Actuarial reports, which showed some gains in interest bearing investments as well as major losses in stock equities, or, they didn't understand much about pension fund financial management, or, they misssed it when the fund manager specified that they had begun to make changes in the fund portfolio towards the aforesaid higher interest bearing investments rather than continue to invest in stocks and mortgage backed securities. It's a no-brainer, but you have to 'follow the money' to understand their reasoning for not doing what we, by law, must do.

Unless these major, priority issues are fully addressed and resolved immediately, I will vote against any change in the 'sign code' at every opportunity.

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