digital displays
8:35 am
Wed May 18, 2011

No new billboards in Tacoma during moratorium

The potential for new electronic billboards has brought an overwhelming negative response from Tacoma residents. So, the Tacoma City Council has approved a six-month moratorium on all billboards in the city, while a new policy is worked out.  

That reverses a legal settlement with Clear Channel. The company negotiated an agreement to put up new digital billboards in exchange for removing hundreds of traditional ones. Now, that agreement is on hold and the company is threatening to return to litigation.

As Lewis Kamb writes in The News Tribune, the battle over electronic billboards dates back to a sign ordinance passed in 1997:

". . . which called for phasing out signs deemed too big, ugly or disruptive by Aug. 1, 2007. Before that deadline came, Clear Channel sued the city, claiming the law violated its free-speech rights. As many as 193 Clear Channel signs would have been deemed illegal under the ban, city officials have said.

"In July, the council agreed to the proposed settlement with Clear Channel, which would allow the company to erect up to 38 new digital billboards in exchange for removing 253 conventional ones and giving up permits for 169 others. As part of the deal, Clear Channel also promised not to reactivate its lawsuit against the city.

"At the time, Mayor Marilyn Strickland called the agreement a good compromise that would allow the city to better regulate billboard placement and protect neighborhoods.

"But as the planning commission took up review of new regulations this year that are aimed at allowing for the settlement terms, overwhelming public sentiment has emerged. About 95 percent of input taken by the commission from more than 350 people has opposed the proposed billboard law changes."

Apparently, the City Council was ready to approve the settlement at the same time the independent Planning Commission was set on a collision course, poised to recommend a ban on electronic billboards.  Kamb reports there's a deadline of august 15th to ratify the Clear Channel settlement.