Tacoma Urbanist

Mar. 15, 2011 at 12:01am

Tacoma's Central Neighborhood Takes Leading Role Against Electronic Billboard "Settlement"

Here is a re-print of the full analysis of the billboard issue from the Central Neighborhood Council who, with many other groups, is opposing the proposed settlement with Clear Channel.  A very professional analysis of the history and analysis of the issue.

Also pasted below is a letter I received from the Central Neighborhood Council.



Please support the Central Neighborhood Council (CNC) in rejecting the Sign Code Revisions for Billboards � allowing digital billboards in Tacoma.  The CNC has reviewed the �Land Use Regulatory Code � Sign Code Revisions for Billboards� as well as the settlement agreement between Clear Channel and the City of Tacoma and has agreed to not support the proposed revisions.  More information can be found at www.cnc-tacoma.com. First to clear up a major misconception:

1.       The approval for the first 10 digital billboards in our neighborhoods, as addressed in the Settlement Agreement, is not a done deal.  Clear Channel has not signed the settlement agreement, it has just been approved by the City Council.  Let your voice be heard to, NO DIGITAL BILLBOARDS, ESPECIALLY IN OUR NEIGHBORHOODS.

The CNC has a number of recommendations based on what the Planning Commission proposes.  Attached is a summary of our recommendations and reasons. In summary:

1.        Moratorium on digital billboards until 2021.

2.       If no to 1, then no digital billboards in our neighborhoods (�special receiving areas�) and increase the sensitive use buffer from 250-feet to 1000-feet in areas zoned for billboards (maps attached).

3.       If no to 1 and 2, at least reduce increase the sensitive use buffer to 1000-feet, decrease the size of the digital billboards in sensitive use areas from 672 square feet (a 14-foot by 48-foot billboard) to 300 square feet and increase the 8 seconds per advertisement cycle to reflect the location and the time the driver will see the advertisement so drivers are only looking at one advertisement not multiple advertisements.

If the regulation approach fails, we will likely be starting a movement to boycott all businesses who advertise on digital billboards and let Clear Channel know.  When we talk about taking money out of Clear Channel�s pocket we can get Clear Channel�s attention.


1.      Attend the March 16, 2011 Planning Commission Public Hearing at 5:00 pm in the City Council Chambers, Tacoma Municipal Building, 747 Market Street, 1st Floor.  If you wish to provide testimony, just sign up when you get there.  If you are not comfortable providing testimony, still show up, the more we fill the room the better.  Remember the first 10 digital billboards are still on the table.

2.Write a letter to the Planning Commission addressing your concerns: facsimile at (253) 591‐2002 or via e‐mail at planning@cityoftacoma.orgJLIB_HTML_CLOAKING .

3.Join �Turn off the Lights Tacoma� on Facebook for updates.

4.      Boycott businesses that

Thank you for your time and we hope to see everyone on Wednesday.  Please forward to everyone you know.


Tricia DeOme


Doug Schafer
Central Neighborhood Council


Proposed Electronic Billboards

The City of Tacoma has proposed allowing the nation's biggest billboard company (Clear Channel Outdoor, Inc.) to erect nearly 40 digital billboards at locations throughout the City.  Our current City leaders chose not to defend in court their predecessors' 1997 ordinance that would have banned all billboards except in very limited commercial and industrial areas.  Instead, they are settling Clear Channel's 2007 lawsuit that challenged the 1997 billboard ban by proposing to amend the City's sign code ordinances to permit Clear Channel to replace its standard billboards around the City with electronic ones that look like huge flat-screen TVs -- ten of which would be 14 feet by 48 feet (672 sq. ft.) and the rest would be 12 feet by 25 feet (300 sq. ft.).  An organization called Scenic America has many articles condemning billboards generally and digital electronic billboards in particular. (http://www.scenic.org/billboards/digital)

The Historic Tacoma organization (www.HistoricTacoma.org) sent a notice to its supporters alerting them about this digital electronic billboards proposal. Click here to see it.

The Central Neighborhood Council board voted on March 3, 2011, to submit comments to the Tacoma Planning Commission opposing the propose changes in the sign code ordinances, for which a public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, March 16, 2011.  That Commission is accepting written comments until 5 pm, Friday, March 25, 2011, by facsimile at (253) 591‐2002 or via e‐mail at planning@cityoftacoma.orgJLIB_HTML_CLOAKING .


The City's website page giving its proposal is at: http://www.cityoftacoma.org/Page.aspx?hid=15962 (City Hall | Departments | Commerce and Economic Development | Billboard Regulations)

A News Tribune editorial from Feb. 7, 2011, (click here) criticizes City officials for settling Clear Channel's lawsuit "that it [the City] might have won."

Tribune reporter Lewis Kamb wrote on Aug. 3, 2010, an article (click here) very critical of the City Council's proposed settlement.

Clear Channel Outdoor's media kits pitching advertisers to use its digital billboards in Des Moines, IA (where Eric Anderson was City Manager for 10 years before Tacoma hired him in 2005) and the Seattle market (5 digital billboards in Kent, only)


Click on the following documents to view/download PDF copies of them:

1997 Ordinance banning billboards, with a 10-year amortization period.

1998 Tacoma Sign Code showing how the 1997 Ordinance fit within Tacoma's sign code provisions.

Sept. 4, 2007, Memo from City Attorney with background of Tacoma's billboard regulations.

June 22, 2007, Table by City Staff listing nonconforming and conforming billboards.


Documents from Clear Channel's lawsuit that the City chose not to defend are here:

Complaint by Clear Channel on July 26, 2007.

Stipulated Order to Toll Fines and Penalties, filed August 3, 2007.

Answer by the City on August 16, 2007.

Court docket showing that nothing much happened for two-and-a-half years; presumably negotiations were underway.

Clear Channel's motion for summary judgment filed Feb. 10, 2010.

Clear Channel's exhibits supporting its motion for summary judgment.

Settlement reported to the Judge on March 16, 2010.

Proposed Settlement Agreement, prepared in March, 2010 (see that month on its Exhibit 4, the last page).  Clear Channel has not yet signed this proposed agreement and likely will not do so until the City enacts the proposed billboard ordinance consistent with Clear Channel's specifications.

Tacoma City Council's meeting minutes from July 27, 2010 approving the Proposed Settlement Agreement.

Agreed Order Dismissing Lawsuit subject to attached Dismissal Agreement, entered October 13, 2010.

First Amendment to the Proposed Settlement Agreement bearing one signature dated January 25, 2011.


Negotiations to Settle the Lawsuit by Giving Clear Channel What It Sought Began Early On.

July 24, 2007, Letter from City Manager Eric Anderson to Clear Channel Attorney

June 12, 2008, Email between City Manager Eric Anderson and Clear Channel President


Some critical analysis from attorney Doug Schafer (the CNC webmaster):

emails of March 7-8, 2011 by Doug Schafer to Sharon Winters re defenses that the City should have asserted in litigation.

email of March 8, 2011, by Doug Schafer to Sharon Winters re Clear Channel's not having signed the proposed Settlement Agreement.


Relevant Court Rulings: (click on an item to see it)

Rhod-A-Zalea v. Snohomish County (WA Supreme Court, 1998), "Local governments, of course, can terminate nonconforming uses but they are constitutionally required to provide a reasonable amortization period."

University Place v. McGuire (WA Supreme Court, 2001), "Nonconforming uses are not favored, and may be extinguished, either after a period of nonuse or a reasonable amortization period allowing the owner to recoup on investment. [footnote 3: This case does not involve an amortization schedule requiring nonconforming use property owners to end their use in a reasonable period of time. Such a schedule has been approved in Washington State. See Rhod-A-Zalea, 136 Wash.2d at 7, 959 P.2d 1024; accord Teuscher v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals, 154 Conn. 650, 228 A.2d 518, 522-23 (1967).]"

Horan v. Federal Way (WA Court of Appeals, 2002), "The parties have not adequately briefed whether amortization is sufficient compensation, and we express no opinion on the issue."

Court rulings upholding amortization periods for nonconforming uses, such as billboards: see the 36 court rulings listed on page 12 of Professor Floyd's article, "The Takings Issue in Billboard Control."

League of Neighborhood Residential Advocates v. Los Angeles (9th Circuit, Fed. Ct. of Appeals, 2007), invalidating the City's litigation settlement agreement that granted the litigant a variance from the City's prior zoning laws.

Chung v. Sarasota County (Florida Ct. of Appeals, 1996), ruling as follows:

"We conclude that the County's settlement agreement here presents a case of improper contract zoning.  Although the County Commission approved the settlement at its regular meetings, it bypassed the more stringent notice and hearing requirements for a rezoning.  When it entered into the settlement agreement that obligated it to rezone Chung's property, the County contracted away the exercise of its police power, which constituted an ultra vires act.
"Chung argues that the County must still follow the formal requirements to enact the zoning amendments and that this process will provide the necessary due process opportunities for notice and a hearing. We reject this argument because the hearings that follow would be a pro forma exercise since the County has already obligated itself to a decision."

Ackerley Comm. v. Seattle (9th Circuit, Fed. Ct. of Appeals, 1997). Seattle in 1977 had banned new billboards and regulated the relocation of existing ones. The court in 1997 upheld the constitutionality of Seattle's 1993 ordinance that further regulated the spacing, dispersion, height, size, location and relocation of billboards, leading to a gradual net reduction in the number of billboards in the city.

Outdoor Systems v. Mesa (9th Circuit, Fed. Ct. of Appeals, 1993). Court upheld constitutionality of 1986 ordinance that banned new offsite signs, including all billboards, and required removal of nonconforming signs on parcel before owner could get a building permit.

Clear Channel Outdoor v. Los Angeles (9th Circuit, Fed. Ct. of Appeals, 2003). Ordinance imposed inspection fees on "Off-Site Signs" defined as "a sign which displays any message directing attention to a business, product, service, profession, commodity, activity, event, person, institution or any other commercial message, which is generally conducted, sold, manufactured, produced, offered or occurs elsewhere than on the premises where such sign is located." [This definition is comparable to Tacoma's definition of "billboard sign" that Clear Channel challenges as content-based regulation.]  The court rejected Clear Channel's constitutional challenge. saying, "The Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit, and many other courts have held that the on-site/off-site distinction is not an impermissible content-based regulation."

Metro Lights v. Los Angeles (9th Circuit, Fed. Ct. of Appeals, 2009). The Court again upheld LA's sign code that banned, with limited exceptions, off-site signs, meaning a sign on private property advertising commercial services or wares purveyed elsewhere than on the premises where the sign is located.  [Again, LA's definition of "Off-Site Sign" is comparable to Tacoma's definition of "billboard sign."]

Clear Channel Outdoor v. New York City (2nd Circuit, Fed. Ct. of Appeals, 2010). The Court upheld constitutionality of NYC regulations governing locations of, and requiring documentation concerning, "advertising signs" defined as "a sign that directs attention to a business, profession, commodity, service, or entertainment that is conducted, sold, or offered elsewhere than upon the premises where the sign is located." [This definition is comparable to Tacoma's definition of "billboard sign" that Clear Channel challenges as content-based discrimination.]

comments [9]  |  posted under Tacoma


by Erik on 3/15/2011 @ 12:33am
More background from Exit 133:


by Erik on 3/15/2011 @ 12:50am

Considering joining the facebook page for Tacoma's opposing the Electronic Billboard "Settlement":


A lot of folks are working on the issue.

by KevinFreitas on 3/15/2011 @ 7:00am
Why does our City bend to pressure like this from big business? ClearChannel had 10+ years to comply with our 1997 ordinance and they chose not to. Too bad, so sad. Take your crap down and get out of our town.

To the Planning Commission: No digital billboards please! We don't need the ads and we don't need the light polluting our skies and neighborhoods. We already see few enough stars in our night sky don't pander to ClearChannel and squander that and more away from our citizens. Which would you prefer a child to see when they look up at night: The beautiful stars in Orion's belt or a ClearChannel billboard ad?

by KevinFreitas on 3/15/2011 @ 7:11am
Here's my email to planning@cityoftacoma.org (feel free to copy and send with your own name signed):

To whom at the Planning Commission it may concern:

No digital billboards please! We don't need
the ads and we don't need the light polluting our skies and
neighborhoods. We already see few enough stars in our night sky don't
pander to ClearChannel and squander that and more away from our
citizens. Which would you prefer a child to see when they look up at
night: The beautiful stars in Orion's belt or a ClearChannel billboard

Tacoma should've stood up and initially fought ClearChannel on their
violation of our billboard ordinance. Since this initial crop of digital
billboards has yet to be erected please stand up and say no to digital
billboards in Tacoma.


Kevin Freitas

by The Jinxmedic on 3/15/2011 @ 7:18am

by captiveyak on 3/15/2011 @ 8:49am
didn't one of the south tacoma councils take a stand on the issue last week, too?

by Erik on 3/15/2011 @ 12:14pm
Here is the legal analysis of Doug Schafer a board member of central neighborhood.

He is the only one who has looked at the federal lawsuit action:




by Nick on 3/15/2011 @ 12:55pm
I'm willing to bet the city just didn't have the resources to fight this. But surely there are enough Tacoma residents with legal backgrounds that we could muster some sort of pro-bono support?

by cisserosmiley on 3/15/2011 @ 12:57pm
the city spent $112,000.00 on a lobbyist, ask that dude to help!!!