Tacoma Urbanist

Mar. 17, 2011 at 12:01am

97 Percent of Tacomans at Planning Commission Hearing Speak Out Against Proposed Electric Billboards

Very, very rarely if ever have I seen such passion on an issue before the Tacoma City Council or Planning Commission where so many people were all on one side as I did last night at the Tacoma Planning Commission meeting. Many were associated with neighborhood groups and associations of one sort or another.

Tacomans from each and every sector (32 total) came out and personally spoke against the proposal to place electronic billboards in Tacoma. Kudos to councilmembers David Boe and Marty Campbell for showing up to hear the testimony:

Read more about the hearing here in the Tribune.

I would estimate 60 people were are the hearing.

This photo shows half of the room.


It is amazing yet disappointing that the well intentioned efforts to greatly reduce billboards in 1997 is being used now as a vehicle to force electronic billboards into Tacoma.

The fact is that many cities ban billboards all together.

According to Tacoma attorney and Central Neighborhood Coucilmember Doug Schafer, the City of Tacoma could simply rescind their offer to capitulate to Clear Channel and should defend against the lawsuit filed by Clear Channel as other cities have (rightfully done).

Tacoma is simply not bound by any agreement

Schafer states in his analysis:

I believe the City's litigation posture should have been to defend the 1997 ordinance.


But irregardless, I consider the proposed Settlement Agreement as nothing more than the City's offer that it can revoke at will....

Schafer told me that there is nothing in the proposed electronic billboard ordinance mentioning Clear Channel and that Tacoma could end up passing an ordinance allowing electronic billboards in the city and could ultimately fail in removing the ones in place now. 

After tonight's hearing, it is very clear that Tacomans wish for the 1997 ordinance greatly reducing/eliminating billboards in the City of Tacoma and do not wish them to be expanded and certainly do not want electronic billboards to be installed in Tacoma. More pointedly, I no doubt a vast majority of Tacomans would like the city to revoke the proposed Settlement Agreement.

Yes, defending the 1997 Billboard ordinance may involve a multi year court battle.  However, this is far better that Tacoma simply rolling over and allowing electronic billboards to be place throughout Tacoma blighting much of the city. 

One has to stand up for their rights or they are taken away from you. The billboard issue is no different.

comments [11]  |  posted under tacoma


by fredo on 3/17/2011 @ 5:06am
Better we allow the lawsuit to go to trial and take our chances than to permit the digitals for all eternity and accept the continued annoyance with Clear Channel. These people will never never never go away unless we stand our ground. There will be some legal costs. So what? Doubt that we could do any worse in court than be saddled with the proposed settlement.

by fredo on 3/17/2011 @ 5:17am
"But irregardless, I consider the proposed Settlement Agreement as nothing more than the City's offer that it can revoke at will...." Doug Schaefer

...gotta smile when I think back to my composition class from 12th grade:

The origin of irregardless is not known for certain, but the speculation among references is that it may be a blend, or portmanteau word, of irrespective and regardless, both of which are commonly accepted standard English words. By blending these words, an illogical word is created. wikipedia

by Erik on 3/17/2011 @ 11:25am
Kevin Freitas quoted in KOMO News article. Here is a good summation of the issue in the article: "If the city does not come up with language acceptable to Clear Channel, it's back to the beginning to renegotiate the settlement. Likewise, the city also has the power to decide this is not the route it wants to go and restart the process from the beginning." Yes, Tacoma. Defend the #&@$ 1997 Billboard law to the best of your ability! tinyurl.com/62btatl

by Erik on 3/17/2011 @ 5:46pm
Now the iconic Weekly Volcano enters into the Billboard issue as Tacomans unite against these potential blights:

All but one of over two-dozen citizens testified vehemently against the proposed digital billboards. Many citizens had a similar message to deliver to the commission, and after the first few statements many speakers began by saying "I agree with my all fellow citizens here today." In what felt like a sign of unification and earnest, nearly all those who gave testimony stayed the entire time to applaud others who had yet to speak.


by KevinFreitas on 3/17/2011 @ 6:29pm
Here's my full written statement from last night's hearing. I didn't read this in full because of time and to keep on-topic. Feel free to quote and clip where ever especially if you use it to write planning@cityoftacoma.org to submit your own testimony.


Good evening. My name is Kevin Freitas and I'm a resident here in Tacoma and work for a local Tacoma employer. I'm here to speak in opposition to the proposed changes to Tacoma's sign codes and, thus the related settlement with ClearChannel regarding violations of those codes.

This is not a free speech issue. It's an issue of a City setting standards for livability. In a livable and civil society law and order must exist. Sometimes maintaining that law and order means finding the balance of what benefits the individual versus the community. There are plenty of examples in our City and society of this so-called limiting of free speech:

* If a small business wants to put up a huge sign with flashing lights it may be required to be changed according to ordinances guiding how that sign can look, where it can be placed, what size it can be, etc.
* A home owner in a neighborhood may not be able to let their grass grow to a certain height or leave their recycling bins out more than a day due to a home owners association they may belong to.
* Political campaign signs can't be placed in public right-of-way's except around the time of elections to keep our streets clean and avoid unnecessary distractions while driving.
* A student might be sent to the principal's office for swearing up a storm or generally disrupting the classroom learning process.
* I can't even stand up and interrupt the President while he's giving a speech without likely being escorted from the venue.

And on and on... All this is in the name of a livable and civil community and changes to our sign code to pacify a large corporation who's been in violation of those codes for 14 years is unacceptable. No speech has been unreasonably limited thus no change in our laws is necessary. Citizens and businesses in Tacoma obey our laws every single day and billboard owning media companies should be no different. If any such companies want to operate in our town they need to behave like they're local and actually care about where they do business and the people who they consider as their neighbors here. Likewise, the City needs to treat such companies like they are one voice among the rest of its citizenry and no different just because they're pocketbooks may run deeper.

There's certainly a value to owners of land/buildings these signs reside on but, again, violations to sign codes make this point moot. If such signs don't stand in place lawfully, then the profits generated from them are ill-gotten and should not be allowed to continue. To go beyond this I'd suggest that land/building owner and the sign owner are the only parties who stand to gain any non-tax profit from a new billboard going up in a neighborhood. If anyone can site an example where nearby property values went up due to a billboard going in I'll stand corrected.

The clock on fines for billboards in violation of Tacoma's sign code started ticking in 2007. Based on calculations made at the time for the daily value of fines incurred, I created a counter over at FeedTacoma.com for how much money the media company in question (ClearChannel) owes the city of Tacoma. At $24,000 per day since then the fine is now up to nearly $31 million dollars. As my friend, fellow patriot, and CLAW member RR Anderson said in these very chambers last July, that could fill a lot of potholes.

My suggestion to this body would instead be to require a settlement including ClearChannel's removal of all non-conforming billboards as the original 1997 code mandates. They've had 14 years to comply and have done nothing. In exchange, our settlement with them will be to consider these hefty fines they've incurred null and void which is more than enough cover the expense of sign removal as they would likely claim Tacoma would be on the hook for. Along with that I propose this Planning Commission update our sign code to additionally and specifically prohibit the forms of digital/electronic billboards in the current proposed changes. Let's not forget that the settlement with ClearChannel specifies only 10 initial digital billboards but the code changes don't limit the overall number that could keep popping up.

If ClearChannel doesn't like these changes, as with all business, I'm sure they have competitors in Virgin, CBS, etc. who'd be happy to come to town and do business here conforming to our local laws and make their profits more honestly. As with any local business or citizen, if you don't like it here you can always move!

Overall, this Planning Commission needs to stand up for Tacoma. The people in this room and all around town do it every day. It's time for this Commission to show this within and by enforcing our laws. We have a chance with this sign code and this case to push efforts to make Tacoma a better place to live forward. Rather, this current proposal represents no "settlement" but is rather one step forward and two steps back. I oppose these sign code changes and settlement with ClearChannel and encourage the same from this Planning Commission.

If this Commission sees fit to move forward despite these concerns I'd urge it to amend the digital billboard section to have all billboards shut off not at a set time each night or turn on at a set time each morning but for those times to be variable based on our local sunset and sunrise. I propose the signs be rendered dark/off by one hour after sunset and turned back on no earlier than one hour before sunrise. As a programmer these changes are trivial to implement and will help prevent issues of night time light pollution and driver distraction.

Thank you for your time and attention.

by NineInchNachos on 3/17/2011 @ 9:07pm
people think my porn hacked digital billboard comment was a joke. it was not banbillboardblight.org/?page_id=3847

by JesseHillFan on 3/18/2011 @ 7:17am
I could see a much more positive use of advertising.
For instance I've noticed that there are few free over the air Digital Television Stations within Tacoma (only KBTC (Public) and their 3 channels).Most of the free over the air DTV stations are located instead in Seattle and one needs a long range antenna to pick these up.DTV broadcast stations use much lower powered amplifiers to broadcast their signal in comparison to their old phased out analog broadcast requirements.Before Cable TV became popular broadcast network stations actually had very good quality varied programming (Especially during the very late 1950's and all of the 1960's and early 1970's).Cable TV when introduced became popular because it carried many more channels with quality programming but lacked the advertising that viewers didn't want to see.Cable TV overtook the Broadcast Network Television model but later phased in the same advertising model to maximize profits.In a way it's only advantage is the more varied channels.
In some localities like Seattle if one didn't to pay for a Cable TV bill one could still have a good selection of free over the air DTV broadcast stations although I've heard that in the city of Phoenix,Arizona one can receive well over 2 to 3 dozen over the air DTV channels.Here in Tacoma again we only have KBTC unless one gets a long range antenna (even then reception can be spotty).
To me having more free over the air DTV channels especially in Tacoma would be quite attractive as advertising can pay for the broadcast station costs similar to what the Broadcast Networks in the 1960's did yet at the same time not be a nuisance (like billboards).A modern DTV broadcast station could have costs vastly lower than the older Analog Broadcast Network Stations.
One indeed for a smaller city could have transmitters using only a few hundred watts.Of course with a smaller coverage area the station would collect less revenue.One could actually have something like many mini DTV boardcast stations like the old HAM radio operators. In a way it could be possible to out compete even the at cost for the consumer Cable TV model if there were enough different varied channels and advertising could be an aid for a free service rather than a nuisance.

by Erik on 3/19/2011 @ 8:59pm
Update: North End Neighborhood Council votes to 1) Oppose ANY introduction of electronic billboards in Tacoma and 2) urge the Tacoma City Council to defend and enforce the 1997 Billboard law in Tacoma. Here is the letter:


North End Neighborhood Council

March 18, 2011

To: Tacoma Planning Commission, Mayor Strickland and Tacoma City Council
Re: Opposition to Billboards in Tacoma

Esteemed City Leaders,

The North End Neighborhood Council (NENC) opposes the proposed settlement with Clear Channel over the issue of billboards. Neighborhoods universally consider billboards to be visual blight, and they are opposed by cities across the United States. Introducing electronic billboards in Tacoma would be extremely harmful and would degrade the quality of life in our city.

Hence, the NENC strongly supports the original 1997 city ordinance that greatly reduces the number of billboards in Tacoma. The NENC opposes any introduction of electronic billboards in the City of Tacoma.

The City of Tacoma should begin enforcing the current billboard law and expend any legal and financial resources necessary to defend the 1997 billboard law just as it would likely have to defend any law reducing blight in the City of Tacoma.

We believe the proposed settlement agreement would place Tacoma in a far worse position than no agreement at all and it should be rescinded. No change in the 1997 billboard law is warranted at this time. In addition:

1. We do not want any billboards of any type near schools, churches, parks, shorelines, historic buildings or districts, or residential neighborhoods.

2. Electronic billboards, should the city accept them, should have their impact minimized by requiring smaller sizes for signs, by lowering the heights of signs, by reducing the number of messages shown each hour, and/or by limiting signs to the sides of buildings rather than allowing stand-alone poles.

3. And if the city accepts electronic billboards, there should be a rapid, definite, enforceable timeline for the removal of all static faces.


Kyle C. Price, NENC Vice Chair on behalf of the NENC

by fredo on 3/19/2011 @ 9:58pm
That NENC letter is a good one, your speech notes too, Kev!

Here's what I've got so far. Two neighborhood councils say no to the settlement. 97% of the testimony at the planning commission was also in opposition. The overwhelming public sentiment as indicated on the News Tribune and Feedtacoma blogs is opposed to the settlement. Emails to city hall and planning commission not disclosed (yet).

This is shaping up to be a huge showdown when it comes back to the city council. Council members who don't stand up for our billboard law probably better start looking for new work.

by NineInchNachos on 3/19/2011 @ 10:54pm
maybe the TNT will do a billboard poll on their homepage

by fredo on 3/20/2011 @ 8:12am
I'd like to see that in the trib too!

Mayor Strickland wants us to engage the elected officials in a spirit of civility. I suggest that if the city council would conduct the city's business in a spirit of transparency, the voters would likely respond with more civility. The public is easily angered when decision making occurs in executive sessions or in a hurried agenda item as in the case of the CC settlement.

Not one councilmember stood up for the citizens and said "No, this settlement is not in the interest of the citizenry?" Not one? Someone please tell me I've got this wrong.