Fast, fun and relatively painless, a garage sale can be a great way to rid oneself of unwantables and make a couple of bucks at the same time.

But the front yards of some San Ramon residents have been looking suspiciously like recurring flea markets, say city officials who hope to crack down on these so-called yard sale abusers.

On Tuesday, the planning commission voted to tighten up the city's existing ordinance on garage sales. An amendment to the ordinance would limit the number of sales a private residence can host per year to three, with activities restricted to weekends or holidays and lasting no more than two consecutive days.

The new rules -- which must first be approved by the City Council -- also would affect where residents can place signs advertising their sales and how many signs they can post.

"It's necessary to stop these scofflaws who insist on trying to make a living through garage sales," said commission chairman Dennis Viers.

As far as city staff are concerned, the biggest issue is the signs, said San Ramon associate planner Shinei Tsukamoto. Residents tack posters or fliers to telephone poles and other public surfaces, then leave them there for weeks after their event has passed -- if they retrieve them at all, Tsukamoto said.

"People don't take responsibility for them, then staff ends up going out there and taking them down," he added.

San Ramon's ordinance always has prohibited people from putting up garage sale signs on public rights-of-way. The amendment also would limit the number of signs residents can post on their own property.


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Under the new regulations, a resident hosting a garage sale could post, at most, one sign in his own yard and four signs on other private properties, such as a friend or relative's yard.

During the past year, city officials have received about a half dozen complaints about overly frequent or inappropriate garage sales occurring in neighborhoods. Upon investigation, San Ramon planners discovered one resident had been hosting weekly sales "specializing in children's products," Tsukamoto said.

"Some people have been doing a garage sale as some sort of money making purpose -- not just getting rid of old household products," he said.

In nearby Dublin, an ordinance restricts garage sales to four per year, per family, and limits the sales to two days at a time. Walnut Creek has an ordinance barring signs from public property.

"I think the ordinance is a great idea," said Robert Bogle, a newcomer to San Ramon who is hosting a garage sale this weekend.

Bogle, who just moved to the city from Blackhawk, said he needs to clear some space in his garage for his car. He hopes to unload an old washer and dryer set and electric lawnmower Saturday.

"I do agree there should be limits because if there aren't, people abuse them, and it reduces the property values in our neighborhoods," said Bogle.

Reach Jeanine Benca at 925-847-2125 or jbenca@bayareanewsgroup.com.