Tacoma Urbanist

Jun. 15, 2011 at 12:31am

Tribune: "Digital Billboard Deal with Clear Channel Dead?"

The future of Tacoma's skyline? Will this help education in Tacoma?


95 percent of Tacomans oppose digital billboards being forced into Tacoma's neighborhoods.  If the proposed capitulation to Clear Channel (aka the "settlement") is not dead, it should be.

Given some of the comments of some councilmembers, thinking that it is the best thing since sliced bread, there is much work to be done on the issue.

From the Tribune:

When accepting recommendations from the city planning commission Tuesday that roundly reject the terms of the citys controversial settlement with billboard giant Clear Channel Outdoor, Tacoma City Council members individually offered some minor suggestions and opinions but made no formal objections as a body.

If a proposed settlement that would allow digital billboards in Tacoma isnt dead yet, its now on life support.

Two council members  Jake Fey and David Boe  voiced leanings toward opposing the city allowing digital billboards.


Nearly 350 people spoke out against digital billboards during the commissions work on the issue. Some flatly told the commission they didnt want Tacoma to turn into Las Vegas, Beale noted. But Strickland said that wouldnt happen, contending that digital billboards are cleaner, easier to maintain and more aesthetically pleasing than traditional ones.

She supported asking the commission to examine ways to set standards for digital billboards, should the city allow them in a very limited capacity one day.

Digital billboards are the future, Strickland said.  We are never going to be Vegas, but as Ive said before, were not Mayberry either. I have no problem with digital billboards. I think they have a place.

Fey disagreed.

Quite frankly, I dont see a pressing need for the digital billboards, he said.


How billboards degrade the public realm:

Next step: 

The Tacoma City Council is expected to conduct a public hearing on July 19th.  You can contact them here with your opinion on the issue while there is still time.

comments [36]  |  posted under tacoma


by Erik on 6/15/2011 @ 1:23am
BTW, the above article was written by LEWIS KAMB; STAFF WRITER!

by NineInchNachos on 6/15/2011 @ 8:21am
Thanks Jake Fey, Thanks Lewis Kamb!

by Erik on 6/15/2011 @ 10:54am
News Tribune commentators raging against the the threat of digital billboards in Tacoma:




by Erik on 6/15/2011 @ 11:12am

Not a good development.....at all.

I was unable to reach Olivia Lippens, president of Clear Channel Outdoor's Seattle division, for comment before posting yesterday's story (or for today's print version). But, I noted that Lippens previously had warned the council that the city faced "costly litigation" if the settlement the council had approved wasn't enacted.

Now, Lippens appears to be taking a different approach. In a statement she emailed last evening, Lippens said she is "encouraged" by the council's actions toward revising the city's billboard's code and believes the council is still committed to "a negotiated settlement" over the billboards issue.


Can 95 percent of Tacomans be "outvoted" so easily?

by cisserosmiley on 6/15/2011 @ 11:25am
yes, and why not...your average tacoma citizen does not know well enough to make an informed decision...thanks olivia and marilyn

by NineInchNachos on 6/15/2011 @ 11:52am
here is kind of an insider's view of the issue...

(Whitney Rhodes responding to Jamie Chase who is considering running against Marty because of the billboard compromise)

"Did you know that the billboard issue is very challenging for the City Council? I know many (probably most, possibly all) of them are not thrilled about digital billboards. However, the issue is that the CIty would most likely lose in court. The council that wrote the law banning billboards did a very poor job of it. As a result, if we actually went to court to get the "fines" owed to us and uphold the moratorium we would very likely lose. So the City Council is between a rock and a hard place. Do they go to court, waste taxpayer money on the lawsuit, lose and them have to pay more money and get more billboards in the end? Or do they try and negotiate some kind of deal? Obviously the digital billboard concept was seen as a compromise. I can tell you they have heard very clearly the citizens don't want it and are now trying to figure out what to do. I'd say the 6 month moratorium was a pretty good indication of what the City Council would like to say to Clear Channel.

Have you asked Marty what he thinks of the billboard issue? It's a pretty harsh blow to say you want to unseat a council member who does a lot of good if you haven't even asked his thoughts on the issue.

I'd also like to throw in that being a City Council member is about a lot more than this issue. Marty has done more for Tacoma than most, arguably all, of the other council members. I think the whole city would be worse off if he wasn't there.

That being said if you ever actually want to run for council let me know. I would be happy to off advice thoughts and guidance as I have done for many of the elected officials in Tacoma."

by Joel 413 on 6/15/2011 @ 12:45pm
Ok, so maybe we can't win. So instead you write a better code, one that is "a poor job of it" Tell them "NO" and give them no more attrition. There we go, the council can still win and not go to court. and if Clear channel still balks, then stick them with the fines of the 2011 code that the council didn't do "a poor job" of.

If they say they are going to lose money because of the new codes, tell then they can use the money they recouped from the old codes? Why didn't they threaten to litigate 14 years ago? why did they wait until the day they were supposed to come down?

Stand up Tacoma City council. Last time I checked the City council and the City manager ran this city, not clear channel. They are here because we allow them to be, not because they have the right to be.

by NineInchNachos on 6/15/2011 @ 12:55pm
Use the moratorium to get the code right!

by jenyum on 6/15/2011 @ 1:02pm
I agree with the part about not coming after Marty, but beyond that I don't agree.

by CaptainBritton on 6/15/2011 @ 1:50pm
It's Joe Lonergan we need to unseat...Let's face it, he makes the next worst council rep look like a dream come true.

by Erik on 6/15/2011 @ 1:52pm
The stance of the council right now is to placate and appease Clear Chanel at any price even if it means handing over Tacoma's (publicly owned) skyline for the private profit of Clear Channel.

Some of the councilmembers, notably Boe and Fey are starting to break out of the three year executive session buble in which they were told the 1997 billboard law was "unconstitutional."

Given that they had no independent legal advice, non of their own staff and could not vet the idea with the public, it is somewhat forgivable that they voted for the proposed settlement agreement.

But at this point, after having obtained input from hundreds of Tacomans in opposition and many other legal sources, they have no more excuses to do the right thing.

As for the political angle, giving away the public skyline of Tacoma to 36 commercial blight inducing 24/7 spam machines is nearly an equivocal act as giving away Wright Park to a gravel pit company and will not particularly popular with the voters.

by L.S.Erhardt on 6/15/2011 @ 2:10pm
As always, politicians kneel (willingly or not) to the will of their corporate masters.

And we're all forced to man the pumpkin cannons.

by NineInchNachos on 6/15/2011 @ 2:22pm
start building your vegetable launching siege weapons today!

by Nick on 6/15/2011 @ 2:36pm
"The council that wrote the law banning billboards did a very poor job of it. As a result, if we actually went to court to get the "fines" owed to us and uphold the moratorium we would very likely lose. "

Isn't collecting those fines a secondary concern? Isn't the primary goal here to prevent construction of digital billboards going forward? Why would the above affect whether or not we draft up a more ironclad ban on digital billboards going forward?

by L.S.Erhardt on 6/15/2011 @ 2:44pm
July 19th, we protest.
Not everyone can fit the room in nor necessarily wants to speak before the council.

I'm serious. Beginning 2 hours before the hearing, get as many people as we can with signs out there protesting in front of City Hall... both at the Market St and St Helens entrances. We'll see who is louder: us or CC.

by Jesse on 6/15/2011 @ 3:55pm
If the council is going to bend (over) on this matter, perhaps allow certain advertising only on Broadway between 9th and 15th. Sort of like times square in NY style stuff or above head style stuff like in DT Vegas. That way if they want to have the outdoor advertising seen, they have to go on a rampage of getting shopping businesses on that street again. Clear Channel then effectively turns into a Tacoma advocate and may even legally tackle the Tacoma Maul's bulls*it rule about businesses that already exist in the mall building within 3 miles of the current mall. Everyone's happy... in my fantasy world...

Tacoma has something they want. Tacoma should get something in return.

by Erik on 6/15/2011 @ 11:20pm
@Thorax: good idea. The more the merrier. It is the public skyline. It should not be given away to profit a few at the expense of the rest of Tacomans.

@Jesse: If digital billboards are forced into Tacoma in any fashion, CC will likely push year after year to have more of them built and/or converted until Tacoma becomes anywhere blighted USA.

Excerpts From the Tribune Comments on the latest update:

joel413 says:
JUNE 15, 2011 AT 11:26 AM
The costly litigation that she hopes to avoid is that for Clear Channel when they are require to pay their fines for not complying with the 1997 codes. To date Clear Channel would owe over $33 million, plus the cost of removing the non-compliant billboards.

There should be no additional re-amoratization period as Clear channel has already received a 4 year extension, while continuing to sell and place ads on their boards since their amoratazation period ended in 2007.

BigSwingingRichard says:
JUNE 15, 2011 AT 3:46 PM
The mayor and the city council are trying to run from their moronic decision to bring digital bill boards and they are hoping we will forget about this before the next election.

Vote all incumbents out.

tree_guy says:
JUNE 15, 2011 AT 4:02 PM
There is no solution which will be " fair, equitable, and acceptable to all parties involved." Therein lies the current problem

The only solution which will be acceptable to most Tacomans is rejection of the settlement offer and enforcement of the current billboard restrictions. People want neither the rusty and dirty current billboards or the ghetto attracting digital billboards. I know Olivia Lippens doesn't want to hear this.

scottsch111 says:
JUNE 15, 2011 AT 5:00 PM
Here's a settlement I could live with: City of Tacoma waives the $33 million in fines in exchange for Clear Channel removing all non-compliant billboards. And forget all about digital billboards. I think the council is smart enough to know what firestorm would erupt if they cave on that issue (although, amazingly, our mayor still seems tone-deaf to the wishes of the people she's supposed to be representing).

TheMASO says:
JUNE 15, 2011 AT 5:30 PM
Settlement??? Just impose your will upon them just as you impose your will upon the people!!! The council of none should say -- no billboards period -- no settlement period!!! Or, are there too many political points to be lost on this issue??? Why does the mayor continue to support billboards...is there a "vested interest" here??

papasan says:
JUNE 15, 2011 AT 9:48 PM
Here's a thought: why doesn't the Council grow a backbone? For once, I agree with swinging... fire the whole bunch of them ESPECIALLY the two that weren't elected.
They wanna sue? LET 'EM! We've got more lawyers on staff than any firm they could hire. Most of them just sit around looking for stuff to do. Give them something to do. Sue Clear Channel for the $33Million.
IS there a vested interest?


by Jesse on 6/16/2011 @ 7:58am
"If digital billboards are forced into Tacoma in any fashion, CC will likely push year after year to have more of them built and/or converted until Tacoma becomes anywhere blighted USA. " -- Erik

Yes. Business is done incrementally. Trump didn't decide he was going to be rich one morning and was so by sun down. It happens in steps through time. So, if there is an agreement with CC, what will the city council do ten years from now when that team is wishy-washy on the subject of adding MORE digitals?? They'll probably bend too.

One issue that is as big as the billboard issue to me is the fact that the public has to fight like mad for the city to take the right road on all of this. It seems Tacoma has a history of doing things halfway and expecting 100% of the rewards -- none of the guts but ALL of the glory?? It doesn't work that way. If you find yourself saying "this is good enough" than it isn't.

Also, has CC used the ten year amortization from 1997-2007 to write off the value of all of these billboards to the tax man? If so, they got to write off the value and keep them? I'd say they owe the feds a big chunk of money in this case as the billboards still existed after 100% of the write off period.

by NineInchNachos on 6/16/2011 @ 8:06am
Erotic Fan Fiction from our own Peter Callaghan www.thenewstribune.com/2011/06/16/170791...

by Joel 413 on 6/16/2011 @ 8:38am
Here's an idea. Get a bunch of LCD monitors and a laptop or two and set up a DIGITAL protest at the entrance to the building on July 19th. Use the protest to show how ugly all those digital billboards would be. fight fire with fire.

by Nick on 6/16/2011 @ 8:52am
"One issue that is as big as the billboard issue to me is the fact that the public has to fight like mad for the city to take the right road on all of this."

I get this feeling way to often. It's exhausting when you have a city council that requires prodding and hand-holding on every issue that crosses their desks. At this point it almost doesn't matter for them what they decide. The fact that it comes to this every-freakin'-time, for me, has already damaged their prospects for reelection.

Also, isn't it sad when the two council members that weren't elected are also the only ones that seem to be representing what the voting public wants?

by CaptainBritton on 6/16/2011 @ 9:07am
I love to see both the right-wing comments and the left-wing comments in near complete agreement.

It's sick to mention, but If there is one thing Tacoma is historically efficient at, it's running stuff they don't like out of town. In the past it was a sad case of racial differences, etc, but now? I fully endorse a Simpson-esque angry mob to run these billboards out on a rail.

by Joel 413 on 6/16/2011 @ 9:59am
Maybe we can get a Striker or Striker repair vehicle from JBLM to come up and throw a chain around one of the billboards and pull it down in the midst of a crowd of Tacomans?

Here's another thought I had this morning:

We are constantly bombarded with advertisements to the point of over saturation, and when you feel over-saturated you deal with it by removing components that you have control over.

When you get fed up with telemarketers, you put your number on the "Do Not Call" list: YOU OPT OUT

When you are sick of junk mail and endless credit card offers you put your name on teh "opt out list": YOU OPT OUT.

When you get spam in your email, you filter it out, unsubscribe,or just delete it. YOU OPT OUT.

When you don't want commercials on TV, you DVR it and skip them, or get IPTV and avoid them all together. YOU OPT OUT

When there are billboards, you lobby your city to put in strickter code, stand up for that code, and you REMOVE THEM! and make it difficult to put them back. Not say, "We'll put up less, and we'll make them prettier"

The people of Tacoma say WE OPT OUT!

by NineInchNachos on 6/16/2011 @ 10:37am
clear channel is an apathy factory. had a twitter argument with an asshole who didn't see a big deal about billboards... "who cares? It's Tacoma"

by CaptainBritton on 6/16/2011 @ 10:59am
"who cares? It's Tacoma"...Was that back and forth with Joe Lonergan? Seems like he doesn't care what kind of city he lives in. Some people are perfectly content with living in shit. These people have no taste...Tacoma has a classy undercurrent that has impeccable taste, and I throw my lot in with them.

by Joel 413 on 6/16/2011 @ 11:14am
Does Clear channel employ >=350 people that live in Tacoma? because that's your break even number for votes. I would be willing to bet that the ratio of the 350 people who have commented on the record to people who agree with them far outweighs the people who work for clear channel who would be out of work because of the removal of the bill boards and the people that support them.

When it comes to politics it comes to keeping your job. Which choice is going to keep your job?

by KevinFreitas on 6/16/2011 @ 11:23am
I completely agree with the comment Erik posted by "scottsch111". Waive the fine, update/clarify our sign code, give Clear Channel an actual 5 years (not 10, way too long for people's civic memories) to remove violating billboards, ban digital billboards out right. Done.

That avoids the ramifications of current litigation, resets the clock a bit, and lets Tacoma get its ducks in a row so this sort of tangle doesn't happen again.

by Joel 413 on 6/16/2011 @ 11:48am
@Kevin I'm fine with your and "scottsch111" suggestion.

I feel giving them another 5 years is too much, they should have started already and the past 4 years ahs been nothing but a stall tactic. I would be willing to bet that 5 years from now we'll have not seen a single billboard come down (other than the ones that have already come down, probably in preparation for digitals) and we'll be right back to square 1 in 2016.

This is where the backbone comes in from the City's side. They need to clearly state in the settlement something about marked progress towards the removal/repair of non-compliant signs within a shorter time frame, i.e. percentage targets for each year over the next 5 years with the incentive being that if they meet or succeed those targets they don't get fined anew. If they do not meet those targets then a fee is assessed based on a mutually agreed upon structure, but the city needs to stand up on this one saying we're doing this for you, you have to give something to us, because you've jerked us around long enough.

by CaptainBritton on 6/16/2011 @ 12:07pm
Obviously they have had enough time...But I'm 100% with Kevin on this. I'm here for the long haul. I can wait another five years as long as digitals are banned outright.

by Erik on 6/16/2011 @ 12:33pm
Re: The amortization period.

At this point, billboards have been in it 14 years!

Yet, if another 5 is required to remove the non-complying ones AND digital billboards were banned in their entirety, I think most Tacomans could live with that.

The problems with the last 10 year amortization is that the council changed completely from 1997 to 2007 and the new council didn't have the stomach or heart to enforce the law.

One central question for new candidates is "when the 5 year amortization period expires, are you willing to enforce it?"

by Erik on 6/16/2011 @ 12:34pm
Interesting Tribune Update (who seems to hate the idea of forcing digital billboards into Tacoma as most Tacomans)

News Item: Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland promises again that Tacoma won’t become Sin City if it allows Clear Channel to install digital billboards.

But banning them might mean Tacoma instead would resemble an iconic symbol of rural America, circa 1960s, she warned.

“We are never going to be Vegas, but as I’ve said before, we’re not Mayberry, either,” Strickland said Tuesday.

The response was immediate…


Historical TV reference:

Ok. Not everyone wants Tacoma to be turned into TV land....but with none fo the shows and all of the commercials!

by Nick on 6/16/2011 @ 12:37pm

I agree with you as well. I keep saying it ('cause its true!): We have no reason to trust *anything* clear channel promises. They have already willfully ignored our laws, what possible reason could we have to believe they would keep their word this time around?

Something I remember from Judge Judy - if she catches you lying once, everything you say is immediately considered unreliable and meaningless. I hear that works well in a lot of courtrooms...

by Nick on 6/16/2011 @ 12:42pm
How about another alternative if are leadership is really that incapable of leading?

We don't have to ban billboards, we just have to make it so expensive to run one that it is no longer profitable to do so. Why not tell ClearChannel, "sure, you can install digital billboards! buuuut....

- We have a tax rate of 80% on gross revenue from digital advertising.
- We have strict aesthetic requirements that must be met.
- Tacoma Power charges 12x the base rate for power when used for advertising purposes.
- 30% of ads must be for unprofitable budget-tight non-profits.

Make the cost greater than the revenue and let ClearChannel go to town.

by ixia on 6/16/2011 @ 1:40pm
- Billboards must be handpainted.

by Erik on 6/16/2011 @ 2:53pm
Ready for the raw truth on the Tacoma billboard issue?

New document release re: correspondence between the the City of Tacoma and Clear Channel on the proposed "settlement":



by jenyum on 6/16/2011 @ 7:41pm
So if I am reading that correctly, the City told its insurers that the settlement was a done deal before the public/planning commission had an opportunity to weigh in? Or am I missing something?

It's also sad to see a letter in support of Clear Channel on the Proctor District Association's letterhead. (Note: there are no digital billboard "special receiving areas" in the Proctor District...)