Billboard Update in Northern California: Third Hurdle Overcome, but Victory Not Yet Final

The northern California city of Albany – near Berkeley and San Francisco – was able to overturn a billboard ordinance the City Council had approved in March that would have allowed a digital billboard on a new maintenance building currently under construction. Scenic East Bay was able to advise them to work together and mount a successful grassroots campaign against the ordinance with help of Sierra Club and especially former City Council member Robert Cheasty.

image003Five members of the public spoke at the City Council meeting on July 21st, including one representative of the Sierra Club.  They argued how digital billboards would adversely affect enjoyment of the waterfront, traffic safety, property values, and wildlife.  Ultimately, four City Council members voted in favor of overturning ordinance.  One council member voted against overturning it.

 

To finalize the ordinance change, there will be a confirmatory vote, most likely at the September 2nd City Council meeting. Monitor the Facebook page updates on the campaign.

 

Your Letters Worked!

Bill No 130817 (North Broad Street Billboard Bill): The Committee on Rules Hearing was initially scheduled for February 12th.  The hearing was cancelled, and the bill is currently on hold.

Rendering of North Broad Billboard Blvd starting at City Hall & ending at Lehigh 2.8 miles away.

Rendering of North Broad Billboard Blvd starting at City Hall & ending at Lehigh 2.8 miles away.

Bill No 130694 (School Advertising):  This legislation passed out of Rules Committee but has now been removed from City Council’s calendar.

Rendering of potential impact of School Advertising Bill

Digital Signage Veto — A Victory and Future Battles

Mayor Nutter veto

Veto of Councilman Squilla’s Digital Signage Bill  by Rosanne Loesch

 

Callowhill and neighborhoods south of it, including Society Hill, had a narrow escape from the billboard district bill. Mayor Nutter vetoed the bill in January, and First District Councilman Mark Squilla, in an eleventh-hour move, decided not to ask City Council to override the veto. The bill (front page article in the Jan/Feb Reporter) would have allowed a seven-story digital advertising sign on the Electric Factory building, at 7th and Callow hill, owned by New York developer Myron Berman. Whether three court decisions (including the Pennsylvania and U.S. Supreme Courts) and two mayoral vetoes will finally squash Berman’s campaign to put a giant digital wall wrap on his building is anyone’s guess. However, we hope that we have heard the last of this matter. (Read the January 30, 2013, Philadelphia Inquirer editorial for more information on this bill.)

But the war against visual pollution in our city is not over. As Philadelphia Inquirer author writes, “But beyond the success in this one instance is the overriding question of whether we Philadelphians are going to let digital signs take over our historic city. (Read Inga Saffron, Philadelphia Inquirer February 12, 2013.) Billboard companies are moving aggressively to convert existing billboards to digital signs and expand into new areas where billboards were previously prohibited. For Philadelphia, a city where commercial and residential districts exist cheek by the jowl, the far-traveling, intense, pulsating light of digital signs could significantly affect the quality of life for residents and the look of this historic city.”

Click here to read the full story!

City Council Hears Testimony on 401 Race Signage



Your Voice has been heard! Thank you so much for all your letters and communications to Philadelphia City Council.

Council has reported over 200 emails and letters received on the issue of a hotel proposed for Old City to include a controversial electronic sign and live entertainment. The voices of those who care about Philadelphia’s skyline as well as the safety of our drivers are being heard!

Compelling Testimony Given at yesterday’s City Council session, as Philadelphia residents, representatives from Scenic Philadelphia, AAA as well as environmental groups and civic groups from across the City each voiced their opinions. At the request of Scenic Philadelphia, the representative of AAA gave illuminating testimony on the potential life-threatening effects of having an electronic sign like the one proposed at the foot of a major city gateway like the Ben Franklin Bridge.

 

Councilmen DiCicco on bill amendments:

Hello All: After further review of the site lines of the proposed digital sign, I have decided based on those graphics that the sign would be visible to the residental communtiy. I will therefore introduce an amendment this Thursday to remove the sign from the current ordinance. I apologize for any inconvinence that this issue may have caused you the residents of Old City and other interested parties. My original support for the sign was based on what I was led to believe, that the sign would only be visible to traffic heading west on the Ben Franklin Bridge and that I would not move forward with the bill until I had evidensce to support that theory. Thank you, Frank

Editorial: Roadside distractions

Philadelphia Inquirer
Posted on Mon, Mar. 22, 2010

atlanticcityWhen every stretch of highway in America looks like Times Square, it will be too late to worry about the driver distractions caused by electronic billboards.

The bright, gaze-riveting billboards are popping up in this region – notably, along the heavily trafficked Pennsylvania Turnpike in Bucks County. Their messages change every few seconds, making them a gold mine for outdoor ad companies, which can sell the same space several times over.

But what’s the impact on drivers whizzing by at speeds of 65 miles per hour and greater? Are they taking their eyes off the road, waiting for the next message to appear?

Billboard Settlement Agreement

In August 2006, Mayor Street, City Solicitor Diaz and representatives of the billboard industry announced that they reached an agreement to settle a lawsuit brought by the billboard industry. The Billboard Settlement Agreement legalized hundreds of unpermitted billboards, reduced licensing fees for outdoor advertisers, and shut down community-based efforts to removed non-conforming and illegal signs. SCRUB has filed a lawsuit on behalf of plaintiffs who have been negatively affected.

Some of the provisions of Billboard Consent Agreement include:

  • Legalizing previously un-permitted and illegal billboards with no regard for zoning, prohibited areas, spacing requirements, or traffic safety concerns.
  • Removing the requirement for safety inspections of billboard structures, despite recent examples of billboards that have collapsed in the region.
  • Reducing the proposed fee structure $650 to a level ($50) that will not allow for effective oversight by the Department of Licenses and Inspections.
  • Stripping the legal rights of community groups and residents to challenge the legalization of illegal billboards.
  • Legalizing billboards despite permit containing a different address or is of a greater size and height.

How will it affect your neighborhood?

  • Un-permitted, illegal or unsafe billboards were granted a legal right to remain, undermining revitalization or beautification efforts.
  • The Agreement has allowed billboard owners to rebuild billboards located in prohibited areas.  I
  • Over 27 million dollars in billboard fines and 9,000 000 in annual license fees remain uncollected as a result of this Agreement.

Eight Sheet Billboards

eight_sheet_on_row_houseOne of Scenic Philadelphia’s most important victories has been the removal of 958 illegal billboards. For decades, these small billboards (called “eight sheets” in the advertising business) could be found bolted to the walls of corner stores, small businesses, and abandoned buildings all over Philadelphia. The company responsible for the signs never sought permits for the signs and refused to pay violation fees! Finally, because of Scenic Philadelphia’s effort and advocacy, all illegal eight-sheets were removed by February 2007.

New: With the help of L&I’s enforcement, property owners throughout Philadelphia are beginning to remove eight sheets from their building facades. View some before and after photographs here.

The smallest type of billboard is called an eight sheet, and is usually placed in areas where there are pedestrians and slow moving traffic. Eight sheets are placed on small poles or bolted directly on to the side of buildings. Because eight sheets are located around homes, schools, and playgrounds, there is concern about the influence they have on children and specific ethnic groups.

For additional eight sheet photographs, click here.

dcp_0095PNE Media’s Illegal Eight Sheets

Because eight sheets are easy to erect, they often have no permit and are illegal. However, the City of Philadelphia is currently in the process of getting hundreds of these signs removed. The City is focusing its actions on PNE Media, a billboard company that owns hundreds of illegal eight sheets throughout Philadelphia.

A list of these illegal eight sheets can be found here. It is searchable by both councilmanic district and zip code.

Contact information for PNE Media can be found in the contact billboard companies section of our website.
Press

Because of the City’s initiative, there has been a lot of recent press regarding eight sheet billboards. In March, The Inquirer wrote about the City’s work on determining the legality of the billboards. In July WB17 featured a story about eight sheets on their nightly news.

The Inquirer and Citypaper wrote stories about a hearing of the Zoning Board of Adjustment, in which the Board gave PNE Media 60 days to either remove or file variances for their 900+ eight sheet billboards.