Tacoma likely to ban digital billboards
JORDAN SCHRADER; Staff writer
A majority of the Tacoma City Council appears headed toward banning digital billboards.
The council could decide Aug. 9 on a proposal unveiled Tuesday. Without dissent, the council took a procedural vote to move it forward.
“After tonight, I’m much more hopeful that we’ll have the full council’s support,” said Councilman Marty Campbell, who proposed the ordinance along with Councilman David Boe.
Campbell and Boe followed the city Planning Commission in calling for largely maintaining 1997 restrictions on signs and adding an explicit ban on electronic billboards.
Councilman Jake Fey supports the plan. He and Councilman Ryan Mello have been critics of digital billboards, and Councilwoman Lauren Walker said Tuesday she supports the city Planning Commission’s proposal that includes a ban. She withheld judgment on the newest version.
Even Mayor Marilyn Strickland, who has been a proponent of allowing some electronic billboards in the city in exchange for removal of traditional billboards, praised the proposed law.
“It moves us toward the goal of eliminating blight in the city,” she said.
But Strickland called the proposal only a first step, and council members said they wanted to keep working on more potential changes, indicating a vote next month wouldn’t be the final chapter in the drawn-out fight over the city’s sign laws.
By approving the measure, the council would be bowing out of a legal settlement it approved last year with billboard owner Clear Channel Outdoor that would have allowed the company to erect up to 38 electronic billboards in exchange for giving up its traditional billboards and rights to build new ones.
Clear Channel has said it would sue if the agreement isn’t followed.
Olivia Lippens, president of Clear Channel Outdoor’s Seattle division, couldn’t be reached Tuesday evening.
Boe and Campbell’s proposal would give Clear Channel six months to take down billboards that don’t comply – as many as 193 of its roughly 250 signs.
Within a year, permits that have been awarded allowing the company to put up relocated billboards would expire.
“It addresses issues we had with the ’97 law and it sets in place a firm timeline,” Campbell said.
The proposal would keep billboards at least 500 feet from shoreline districts and would ban digital and “internally illuminated” billboards.
Campbell said some kind of incentives may be considered to help prod the removal of billboards that aren’t in compliance with the law, such as exempting the removals from requirements for demolition permits.
City Attorney Elizabeth Pauli told the council Tuesday that some of the restrictions under consideration would require the city to compensate billboard owners.
No one spoke against the substance of the measure, though Councilman Joe Lonergan said he was alarmed by “some pretty large and dramatic changes at the 11th hour” from the Planning Commission version.