Ian Stewart needs a job.
“I haven’t had any luck the past three months,” said Stewart facing the City Council on Tuesday night. “The only place I had any luck was with Creative Outdoor Advertising.”
Stewart, 19, recently left college at San Francisco State University in order to return home and make some money. Stewart said he’s had a tough time finding employment in the Santa Clarita Valley. Still looking for a permanent job, he only grabs occasional hours of work with Creative Outdoor Advertising as a “sign twirler.”
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They go by many names – “sign twirlers,” “wavers,” “human directionals” – and pop up at select street corners throughout Santa Clarita. Sometimes they’re in costume and sometimes they’re holding foam fingers. And most of the time they’re violating city code.
Chapter 11.12 of the Santa Clarita Municipal Code deals with interference with city property. Section 040, titled Signs or Billboards on Public Highways Prohibited Exceptions, states: No person shall erect, construct, place or maintain any signboard, billboard, sign or advertisement in, over or on any public highway or other public right of way of the City.
That is the ordinance which has stymied businesses like Creative Outdoor Advertising, which has previously contracted with home builders and apartment complexes.
“We have work out in the Santa Clarita area. I have a ton of applications for guys willing to work, but code enforcement won’t allow us to work in the city,” said Wendy Glaub, a company co-owner.
COA currently employs eight people in the Santa Clarita Valley, but only actively provides work for two. Glaub said that, because the City prohibits employees from spinning signs or holding signs with any advertising copy, she’s trying to give them work in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County, which doesn’t strictly enforce restrictions on human directionals.
“These signs are not allowed in the public right of way due to safety concerns,” said City Manager Ken Pulskamp at Tuesday’s meeting.
Pulskamp said the signs distract drivers, end up in the public right of way and sometimes the twirlers wind up in traffic.
“I’ve never heard that before,” said Glaub on Wednesday. “The signs that we make – they’re $150 and our human directionals are responsible for those. So they’re not going to purposely throw them in the street.”
Nevertheless, Santa Clarita residents are familiar with the Little Caesar mascot and young men sweating in Lady Liberty costumes beckoning for their attention. In recent years, human directionals worked for local Game Stop and Metro PCS branches, which have since gone out of business.
“Nothing that says ‘Liberty Tax’ is allowed to be with the wavers,” said Dippy Aujla, owner of Liberty Tax on Bouquet Canyon Road.
Aujla, whose company has accrued more than $2,000 ($250 per violation) in fines because of the ordinance, said she’s made changes to appease the City, as her employees now hold an American flag or point with a foam finger to attract business. Neither item may contain any advertising copy.
“We opened another store this year and we just decided not to open it in Santa Clarita, just for that one reason,” she said. “We have so many wavers at our other stores and we could hire more here, but it’s just not very productive.”
Liberty Tax employs human directionals in Palmdale, Lancaster and Pasadena, where the code is more lenient, Aujla said.
“Our ambition was to open four stores in the Santa Clarita Valley,” she said. “I understand that everything is meant to be kept nice, but with so many restrictions a lot of businesses are moving out of Santa Clarita.”