You are here

Wells Fargo sign issue to be revisited by City

Chris Bashaw, Assistant Editor
2:09 pm PDT July 8, 2014

The banner signs on the Trancas Country Market’s Wells Fargo branch may stay up for a little longer than anticipated.

Members of the City of Malibu Planning Commission voted at their meeting on Monday, July 7 to schedule a reopening of a hearing regarding the application for an amendment to the previously approved Trancas Country Market Master Sign Program, which concerned signage at the area’s Wells Fargo branch.

At the commissioners’ June 2 meeting, they voted to direct City staff to draft a resolution both to deny and sustain, in part, the Master Sign Permit applied for by Wells Fargo.

Citing its corporate trademark, Wells Fargo applied for the permit to use yellow lettering as well as to increase the size of the sign’s letters. Citing the Lanham Act, Commissioners voted to approve the use of yellow letters to allow Wells Fargo to reflect its corporate identity, but struck down the increase in size for its primary sign as it would have been “inconsistent with surrounding signage in the shopping center,” an agenda report states.

According to an agenda report for Mondays’ meeting, a major issue at the June 2 meeting concerned whether or not Wells Fargo’s yellow text on a red background was a registered trademark. A Wells Fargo representative, however, agreed to utilize a black background in place of the registered red background.

But according to the online Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS), the agenda report continues to read, “the yellow text on red background is a registered service mark,” which is distinct from a trademark in that a service mark is a word, name or symbol used in the sale or advertising of services.

A service mark essentially functions to identify services of one entity and to distinguish those services from those of others, whereas a trademark is used to identify good or products.

The City’s research on the Lanham Act and relevant case law revealed that the City couldn’t mandate an applicant to alter a registered mark in any case, be it either a service mark or a trademark.

At their July 7 meeting, however, some of the Commissioners expressed doubt over their preparation and the Commission’s decision on June 2, which opened discussion to revisiting the issue during a Planning Commission meeting in September.

“I walked into this meeting last time never heard of Lanham act and was totally unable to analyze in my opinion the implications of that,” said Planning Commissioner John Mazza, who motioned for the Commission to revisit the issue.

Concurring with Mazza, Planning Commission Chairperson Mikke Pierson also expressed concern that he did not feel as if he was as prepared for the issue, especially concerning how any decision the Planning Commission could come to at Trancas could potentially be nullified should the Planning Commission and City Council adopt a master sign ordinance to affect all of Malibu.

“I do not feel like I was adequately prepared on this issue in terms of the bigger picture,” he said. “I would like to do a better job than we did at the last meeting because I simply didn’t have the knowledge I needed. I also didn’t have the opportunity to question staff at length on it and the public didn’t have opportunity to weigh in on that either.”

The next City of Malibu Planning Commission Meeting will convene at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, July 21, in the Malibu City Hall Council Chambers at  23825 Stuart Ranch Road in Malibu.