A proposed agreement that Tacoma officials say they expect to sign Wednesday with Clear Channel Outdoor would require the company to tear down 17 of its billboards – possibly as soon as in three months – and give up its permits to build more.
In return, the city would agree to at least consider letting the advertising giant keep some of the rest of roughly 190 billboards deemed “nonconforming” under a year-old code passed by the City Council.
The proposed agreement calls for a two-year time-out in a potentially expensive court fight looming between Clear Channel and the financially strapped city over the nonconforming signs. That would allow time for talks in which the city would seek to have Clear Channel tear down all but “a remaining few” signs, said City Attorney Elizabeth Pauli.
City Manager T.C. Broadnax announced the deal at Tuesday’s council meeting, saying the “standstill agreement” wouldn’t prevent the city from going back to court later. He said the city is not agreeing to talk about allowing digital billboards, which the council has banned.
“With this agreement, it’s the biggest step we’ve taken in 30 years” toward removing billboards, Councilman Marty Campbell said.
Clear Channel’s immediate responsibilities under the deal, according to Pauli, would include:
• Applying for city demolition permits for 17 billboard structures within 30 days, then tearing them down within an additional 60 days after receiving the permits. The structures hold up 31 sign “faces.”
• Giving up all of its roughly 170 relocation permits, which allow a demolished billboard to be replaced in a new spot.
• Repairing or cleaning up 15 deteriorating or defaced sign structures within 90 days.
City officials declined to reveal the locations of the affected signs, saying that would wait for Wednesday’s finalizing of the deal.
While not confirming the city’s numbers, citing “ongoing” negotiations, Clear Channel confirmed Tuesday that it would take down some billboards if the deal goes through.
Spokesman Jim Cullinan said the pause would allow negotiations over a possible resolution through City Council action, something he said city officials have told the company they can’t talk about during the ongoing legal fight.
“The fact that we can go sit down and now have a discussion to have a legislative solution, we think is a very positive step for us and our business,” Cullinan said. “It’s good for the city; it’s good for the taxpayers that we work with the city to solve this. Nobody wants costly litigation.”
Clear Channel sued the city just before a 2007 deadline to comply with a 1997 ordinance by tearing down signs. The company argued the law was unconstitutional.
A settlement was reached to require demolition of signs in exchange for letting Clear Channel put up a smaller number of new billboards using digital technology. But public outcry led the council to backpedal, ban digital signs and require nonconforming signs to come down by March, and ask a court to invalidate the settlement deal.
Broadnax paused enforcement of the 2011 law, citing the city’s budget shortfall, but Pauli said that decision merely pushed back court deadlines that are now approaching again.