Tacoma Urbanist

Mar. 29, 2011 at 12:09am

More Than 95 Percent of Public Comments Submitted Oppose Electonic Billboards in Tacoma

The public comments on the proposed electronic billboards are now posted on the City of Tacoma website here and here.


Summary of Testimony:


The opposition to the proposed electronic billboards is completely overwhelming. I have never read such a broad based, diverse and overwhelming objective to any proposal considered by the Tacoma City Council. Not even close.

The first part of the comments (page 3) are the summary of the testimoney given at the Planning Commissioner hearing where 32 of the 33 commentors voice their opposition to electronic billboards on March 16th, 2011. A good read.

The next 300 pages are written and emailed testimony against the electronic billboard proposal. A mind boggling 245 comments total and almost every single one of them against the electronic billboard proposal.

At least 4 individual neighborhood councils, Tacoma Community Council of Tacoma (representing all neighborhoods), educational groups, churches, architects, business and historical groups and over 200 individuals weighed in opposing the proposal.

Included in the comments is a separate petition with 103 signatures in opposition.

Quite distressing in the comments (and a surprise) was a letter in opposition written by Colonel Brittain in the US Army at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. He first identifies part of Tacoma as a "Accident Potential Zone." (How may Tacomans know part of the city is labled as this?)

Colonel Brittain believes that electronic billboards may interfere with pilots� vision presumably creating more potential for "accidents" in the Accident Potential Zones. He requests that any electronic billboards be faced downward.

Finally, DeOme-Schafer submitted a separate 25MB packet against the electronic billboard proposal but somehow, this document does not seem to be viewable online.

The Pro Billboard Comments

It took some extensive looking to find even one pro-billboard comment.

The only comments I could find in support in favor were those of Seattle based Diamond Parking (sent from their Seattle office) and a few other organizations hoping to get some free billboard space in the future.

Perhaps there is one buried in the comments, but I could not find a single comment FOR electronic billboard where the commenter did not have something very specific and direct to gain from erection of electronic billboards in Tacoma. At least four of the pro-billboard comments were sent from commentors in Seattle....where electronic billboards are banned!

Summary Electronic Billboard Issue

Whether it be by written or testimony, Tacomans are strongly against placing electronic billboards in the City of Tacoma. I have not made the exact calculation, however, At least 95 percent of the comments submitted were against electronic billboards.

As the News Tribune and attorney Schafer pointed out with numerous legal citations, the 1997 billboard ordinance is most likely valid and needs to be defended, not abandoned as a result of outside influences.

No doubt, electronic billboard will be a large, if not the largest political issue during the 2012 and 2014 election. Never before in Tacoma�s history, has a proposed ordinance threated to cover the City of Tacoma with so much visual blight as the electronic billboard ordinance threatens to do and been opposed by nearly unanimously by so many.

Tacoma has made a number of mistakes in it's history which have wrecked havoc on the city.  Should Tacoma fail to stand up for itself as other cities have in oppositing electronic billboards and defending the 1997 Billboard Ordinance, Tacomans from all areas of the city of every background will suffer for decades to come.

For more information on the billboard issue, see the Central Neighborhod Council billboard document archive.

comments [12]  |  posted under Tacoma


by Erik on 3/29/2011 @ 2:37am
Having an increase of chance of planes crashing in Tacoma is reason enough to ban electronic billboards.

However, there are studies that show they make driving more hazardous as well:

Driven to Distraction

Digital Billboards, Diversions Drivers Can�t Escape
Fabrizio Costantini for The New York Times

A digital billboard, the first one in the series shown above, is located along I-75 in Detroit and can be seen from great distances. Safety advocates say the signs can distract motorists, much like cellphones and P.D.A.s, and possibly contribute to traffic accidents.


by KevinFreitas on 3/29/2011 @ 6:49am
Thanks for linking to those documents Erik! That's pretty impressive stuff. And I was able to open DeOme-Schafer's packet just fine so hopefully others will too. This overwhelming opposition to digital billboards should send a clear message to city leaders as to what the people here want and, first and foremost, they don't want digital billboards. This can easily bring the fight back to Clear Channel in court where we can further demand they comply with our completely reasonable and precedented sign code from over a decade ago that they just decided to illegally ignore since then.

by NineInchNachos on 3/29/2011 @ 8:52am
I believe I said more than this...

24. R. R. Anderson:
Mr. Anderson would like the City Council to uphold the laws that were passed in 1997. He said it is the right thing to do and “just say no to digital billboards”. He said also that we are trying to advertise that we are going “green” in our City and digital billboards will have a negative impact for living up to that advertisement.

guess you have to listen to the audio.

by thriceallamerican on 3/29/2011 @ 8:54am
Heh, document #1 includes comments from "Citykitty Shifty":

From: shifty citykitty [mailto:shifty@meowmail.com]
Sent: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 5:10 PM
To: Planning
Subject: tee vee billboards
tee vee billboards are ugly, and they are suppost to take the other ones down - not put
more up.

by NineInchNachos on 3/29/2011 @ 9:14am
TEAM Shifty!

by Erik on 3/29/2011 @ 9:17am
@RR: Yes, the summaries of oral testimony were pretty good. Nice to see the city included your Tacomic in the public comment packet.

@Kevin: Right on. This is an issue of private profit of a relatively few largely Seattle based groups v. the quality of life for people that live in Tacoma. Even Tacoma businesses owners and business groups in Tacoma oppose electronic billboards. Given the extent of the opposition, it is clear that it transcends every division that can divide people on issues.

Now that the public comment period is over people can forward their comments to the Tacoma City Council:


There are some interesting surprises in the comments. Diamond Parking, one of the largest owners of surface level parking lots in Tacoma weighed in for the electronic billboard.

For the first time, Tacoma gets to see a (near secret?) map of the "Accident Potential Zone" in Tacoma from massive jet aircraft landing at McChord which is included in the comments and worth viewing. Freaky.

by fredo on 3/29/2011 @ 9:29am
Yes Erik, everyone agrees the billboards are ugly and converting to digital billboards would be no improvement.

It seems to me the issue is not whether the billboards are attractive or beneficial but whether can the city of tacoma can afford to defend it's 1997 billboard law. We've heard reports that defending the law would take years and cost millions.

You're an attorney. Is this a reason to abandon our law and,by extention, our interest in having a quality city? Couldn't we borrow some city attorneys from places where billboards have been successfully outlawed to guide Ms. Pauli?
What if some other megacorporation saw that we could be pressured into abandoning some other cherished city law? Would we give up on that too? Are provisions in the Tacoma City Code up for sale to the highest bidder?

by Erik on 3/29/2011 @ 9:57am

Good points.

When the City of Tacoma banned casinos in Tacoma, there was a lawsuit to try to overturn the city law.

What if someone wanted to place a gravel pit in the middle of the city and threated litigation if the city opposed the plan? Should the city just roll over and allow a massive pit to be constructed to "avoid litigation"?

Given the number of commercial message Tacomans would be spammed with over a 20 year period with a new commmercial flashed every 8 seconds 24 hours a day. 7 days a week, in addition to the damage skyline, the litigation cost to defend Tacoma's billboard law is negligible.

BTW, I was able to download the second pack of public comments submitted by Tacoma's Central Neighborhood Council comprehensive package against billboards in Tacoma which gives some great background information and a lot of legal analysis. Check it out here:


Wow. An amazing comprehensive and professional submission by the Central Neighborhood Council. All you ever wanted to know about the Tacoma electronic billboard issue. They include articles showing the danger created by electronic billboards.

Central Neighborhood deserves 100 citizen awards for their work on the billboard issue.

by Erik on 3/29/2011 @ 11:51pm
Update from attorney Doug Schafer who is digging deep on the billboard issue. CC seems to be very well aware that their electronic billboards can be regulated or eliminated and that amortization schedule employed to eliminate billboards is legal.


Clear Channel Communications, Inc., filed an Annual Report (Form 10-K) with the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission on Feb. 14, 2011, that included the following:

Government regulation of outdoor advertising may restrict our outdoor advertising operations

U.S. federal, state and local regulations have a significant impact on the outdoor advertising industry and our business. One of the seminal laws is the HBA, which regulates outdoor advertising on the 306,000 miles of Federal-Aid Primary, Interstate and National Highway Systems. The HBA regulates the size and location of billboards, mandates a state compliance program, requires the development of state standards, promotes the expeditious removal of illegal signs and requires just compensation for takings. Construction, repair, maintenance, lighting, upgrading, height, size, spacing, the location and permitting of billboards and the use of new technologies for changing displays, such as digital displays, are regulated by federal, state and local governments. From time to time, states and municipalities have prohibited or significantly limited the construction of new outdoor advertising structures. Changes in laws and regulations affecting outdoor advertising at any level of government, including laws of the foreign jurisdictions in which we operate, could have a significant financial impact on us by requiring us to make significant expenditures or otherwise limiting or restricting some of our operations. Due to such regulations, it has become increasingly difficult to develop new outdoor advertising locations.


From time to time, certain state and local governments and third parties have attempted to force the removal of our displays under various state and local laws, including zoning ordinances, permit enforcement, condemnation and amortization. Amortization is the attempted forced removal of legal non-conforming billboards (billboards which conformed with applicable laws and regulations when built, but which do not conform to current laws and regulations) or the commercial advertising placed on such billboards after a period of years. Pursuant to this concept, the governmental body asserts that just compensation is earned by continued operation of the billboard over time. Amortization is prohibited along all controlled roads and generally prohibited along non-controlled roads.

Amortization has, however, been upheld along non-controlled roads in limited instances where provided by state and local law.

Other regulations limit our ability to rebuild, replace, repair, maintain and upgrade non-conforming displays. In addition, from time to time third parties or local governments assert that we own or operate displays that either are not properly permitted or otherwise are not in strict compliance with applicable law.

For example, recent court rulings have upheld regulations in the City of New York that have impacted our displays in certain areas within the city. Although the number of our billboards from which we have been required to remove commercial advertising as a result of these regulations is immaterial, from time to time in the future we may be required to remove billboards for alleged noncompliance with regulations.

Such regulations and allegations have not had a material impact on our results of operations to date, but if we are increasingly unable to resolve such allegations or obtain acceptable arrangements in circumstances in which our displays are subject to removal, modification or amortization, or if there occurs an increase in such regulations or their enforcement, our operating results could suffer.

A number of state and local governments have implemented or initiated legislative billboard controls, including taxes, fees and registration requirements in an effort to decrease or restrict the number of outdoor signs and/or to raise revenue.

In addition, a number of jurisdictions, including the City of Los Angeles, have implemented legislation or interpreted existing legislation to restrict or prohibit the installation of new digital billboards. While these controls have not had a material impact on our business and financial results to date, we expect states and local governments to continue these efforts. The increased imposition of these controls and our inability to overcome any such regulations could reduce our operating income if those outcomes require removal or restrictions on the use of preexisting displays. In addition, if we are unable to pass on the cost of these items to our clients, our operating income could be adversely affected.

All the Clear Channel Communications, Inc. SEC filings are accessible at:


by fredo on 3/30/2011 @ 5:23am
That was a good posting Erik

Doug Schaefer is obviously motivated to stop the digital billboards and to see the enforcement of the 1997 Billboard law. In this regard he is aligned with the wishes of Tacoman's as evidenced by the recent planning commission testimonials and with the emails supporting enforcement.

Why doesn't Tacoma hire him temporarily to help oversee our defense team? I'll bet he would work at a very reasonable price and his motivation to prevail is undeniable. We're certainly not hearing much encouragement from our mayor, our council, and our city manager.

Earth to Mayor Strickland, when are you going to awaken from your somnambular avoidance of the Clear channel situation? Or would you like your legacy to be known as the person in charge of the city during the years when the crappy digital signs were installed? That's what you want to remembered for?

by fredo on 3/30/2011 @ 5:36am
I've been looking at the billboards a lot more carefully in the last few weeks. It's amazing how ugly the structural elements of the billboards are in most locations. The backside of the signs are mostly grimy, rusty and covered with graffiti. The faces frequently have the appearence of tattered old fitted bed sheets. They've been described as litter on a stick. I think that's charitable.

I don't think there would be so much opposition to the billboards if they advertised local businesses, were hand painted by local sign painters and if the structures were kept in immaculate condition.

If they were wonderfully imaginative, like having a giant articulated bottle of Heidleberg Beer pouring into glass I would even put the billboard on my Tacoma Tour.

by NineInchNachos on 3/30/2011 @ 8:00am
Amen fredo.