MORAGA -- A town-owned sign that notifies passers-by of everything from crab feeds to community meetings could soon be getting a 21st-century update.
Officials directed town staff this week to explore buying an electronic sign to replace an existing marquee-style sign near a grove of trees on Moraga Road.
Town staffers say the two-sided electronic board will allow for increased emergency notifications and news about community happenings; messages on the existing board typically appear for a week before being manually switched out by a Parks and Recreation worker.
Council members also directed staffers to explore possibilities for financial partnerships with service groups and other community organizations before purchasing additional electronic signs that could be placed near schools and fire stations. Each sign could cost the town up to $40,000.
"It's another opportunity to get community information out there," said Parks and Recreation department Director Jay Ingram.
In addition to ramping up the number of messages, the board could help reduce other types of signs that "pop up" throughout town, Ingram said.
But the new signs also have their drawbacks. An electronic sign with frequently changing messages could distract some drivers, Ingram warned. The town may also need to update its sign ordinance with new policy that "balances" the need for community information and First Amendment rights.
That need was highlighted recently following a complaint from a resident upset about a message that appeared on the sign from the Moraga Valley Presbyterian Church. Ingram said that message, like others that are nonofficial town messages, was a paid advertisement.
Still, the handful of residents at Wednesday's meeting only voiced support for a new marquee. Those residents included Ellen Beans, who said she helped start the Moraga Citizen's Network years ago in response to a lack of communication between town leaders, staffers and residents.
"It seems like the next step to involve and educate and inform many more people," Beans said before encouraging officials to consider placing at least two more electronic signs around town.
Although all three council members in attendance supported going forward with the sign, at least one had reservations about how an electronic sign would mesh with a town known for its rustic charm.
"If anything screams 'semirural character,' it's that sign of ours. You're in the country when you see that sign," said Councilman Roger Wykle.
But while he said "big and obnoxious" signs such as the flashy electronic sign near Oracle Arena "do not scream semirural character," he conceded that a new sign would help "get the word out" and potentially bring in more revenue.
Councilman Mike Metcalf hinted that Moraga could use the update.
"Whenever I see that existing marquee, I don't think semirural, I think backwater," Metcalf said.
Once approved, staffers plan to dip into about $86,230 in unrestricted funds from a Comcast franchise agreement to purchase a new sign.