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Local Entrepreneur Battles City Over Sign

Dublin officials say sign is too big, even though it is smaller than an adjacent sign.

Local restaurant owner Phillip Chin wanted to make his new Willow Tree sign more visually pleasing and similar in style to a neighboring business sign.

He also wanted it to be more visible.

The 80-year-old entrepreneur said his restaurant, which he opened in 1978, could at one time be seen from the freeway and Dublin Boulevard, before other buildings grew up around it over the years.

Willow Tree, located at 6513 Regional St., sits where the street dead-ends at I-580.

“People were complaining that they couldn’t see the sign,” Chin explained. “No one can see my restaurant now – no one would even know about it.”

So he made the sign a little higher and a little nicer, Chin said.

“I think it looks very nice. Nobody has complained to me about it. My sign isn’t bothering anybody,” he said.

According to Around Dublin Blog, Dublin City Manager Joni Pattillo said the sign poses a “health and safety issue.”

Chin pointed out the sign is on his property and he has all the insurance required by law. Therefore, the liability would be his, not the city’s, if anyone got hurt.

Chin met with Dublin Planning Manager Jeff Baker twice to resolve the issue. Both times Baker said the sign is too big and needs to be taken down.

Yet, the sign is still smaller than the adjacent sign for Holiday Inn and Outback Steakhouse.

“I can’t understand it,” Chin said. “It’s in the same spot, only it’s a little bit higher. I put stucco on it to match the other sign, so that it looks good for my customers.”

He said Willow Tree’s renovated sign complies with the city’s size requirements. The colors are similar to Holiday Inn’s new sign next door.

“It’s not fair,” Chin said. “Who’s going to pay for it?”

Business is slow, he said. He only makes enough to pay his overhead.

“I think the city doesn’t understand how hard it is to keep restaurant doors open in this economy,” he said.

Apparently, a neighboring business filed an anonymous complaint against Chin’s new sign in December 2011. Dublin Senior Code Enforcement Officer Dean R. Baxley has called Chin several times and served him with violation notices.

“I told the city: Tell me who complained – not the person, just the business,” Chin said. “Then I will take the sign down.”

But, he said, the city won’t say.

Why would the city pick a fight with an octogenarian small business owner – a member of the community for over 30 years - in the first place?

Around Dublin Blog suggested that one incentive could be that the Willow Tree sits on a large piece of land adjacent to the West Dublin BART station in the city’s historic big box shopping district. If Chin is forced to relinquish ownership of the parcel, the city may have the opportunity to rezone the land to allow for residential development.

City Manager Pattillo could not be reached for comment.

Chin has lived in the same house in Livermore for the past 52 years. He and his wife raised four children, and now have seven grandchildren.

Although his family and friends have encouraged him to close the restaurant and take it easy, Chin said he really enjoys what he does.

“I like my restaurant, I come in every day to see people,” he said. “It’s my home.”

David Mills April 26, 2012 at 10:32 PM
City officials got back to us today. Their response is now listed in a separate story.
Eric Muetterties April 29, 2012 at 03:22 PM
Seems like the City's requirements should be the issue, which would mean he is following the law. If the sign does not meet the requirements then both should be taken down or the City should meet and discuss this and possibly change the requirements. Arbitrary interpretation of sign requirements should not be happening. Small businesses should be supported not harrassed.
melodiegal April 30, 2012 at 07:29 PM
It’s important to note that there is a safety issue at hand. I don’t believe the City is being unreasonable; Mr Chin is! He states that his insurance will cover any liability associated with the sign so there is no need to worry. That doesn’t make me feel good… it scares me. If the sign is not built to safety code and it falls on me or my family what good does his liability coverage do me after the fact? Mr. Chin has violated code and process - which by the way, other businesses didn’t seem to have a problem following. Codes are in place to ensure the safety of the public. The City has established an equitable process for ALL businesses to meet basic safety standards. Mr. Chin’s behavior towards this matter is offensive to all the other private businesses that follow the process and codes to obtain the proper permits. Regardless of how long he has had his business; it doesn’t exempt him from following the law. If he is this careless in constructing a sign, what other shortcuts does he take with his business? You can make sure that neither I nor my family will visit his business. And I’ll encourage my friends to do the same.
John DeKoven May 01, 2012 at 05:21 PM
First of all a disclaimer I run Bunjo's Comedy Lounge which is inside The Willow Tree Restaurant and am a totally separate entity from The Willow Tree. I've documented many times on Patch and Around Dublin Blog the unbelievable hassles the city made me go through just to do business in an already established location so I won't repeat it here. What I can tell you (and other business owners will tell you the same) is that they come up with these ridiculous requirements and have the most rigid standards of any city in the Tri-Valley. I can assure you that Mr. Chin did not do anything malicious on purpose. He felt that if he built a sign to the same standards as the one next to it there wouldn't be a problem. Okay so a mistake was made, but no one can argue that this sign does not look 1000 times better then the old one. So instead of getting crazy why not try to figure out a way to resolve this issue by using common sense! That is the problem with the city they don't use common sense (again I could go on and on about the ridiculous things they made me go through). Mr, Chin has basically said that if it's wrong then he'll just take it down and put the old one back. By the way I am VERY suspect about this story about another business filing a complaint. Why would they and not file one against the Holiday Inn when it is basically the same sign.? In the meantime next door is a Massage Parlor with an ugly banner hanging from the roof. Why is that still there?
John DeKoven May 01, 2012 at 06:03 PM
Just in case anyone wants to see the old sign and the new one you can go to http://bit.ly/K4rLCf.

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