Several Washington cities would be interested in giving the go-ahead to electronic billboards along state highways if they were allowed, sign company Clear Channel Outdoor told legislators Tuesday.
One is Kent, already the epicenter of Clear Channel’s small network of digital signs in the state. The city wants to use a site near the ShoWare Center and state Route 167 for a digital billboard that would bring in revenue and showcase emergency alerts along with advertisers’ messages, said the city’s lobbyist, Doug Levy.
“We’ve found them to be a good corporate partner,” Levy said.
“A couple other municipalities in that area” also are looking at the idea, said Clear Channel’s Michael Mayes, who said Kent has six digital signs. But the signs are not allowed along state highways, a ban that the state’s dominant sign company has tried to reverse before without success.
Supporters are making another attempt, with bills in the House and the Senate proposing to allow the electronic signs along highways within cities and towns.
“This is a ploy for them to divide and conquer,” Jill Jensen of Scenic Tacoma told lawmakers, predicting it would open the door for Clear Channel to fight cities in court as it has Tacoma.
That federal court dispute over the number and location of billboards in Tacoma is currently paused to give the combatants time to negotiate.
Opponents, who call digital billboards visual blight and a distraction to drivers, have “lit up” lawmakers’ email, House Transportation Committee Chairwoman Judy Clibborn said.
“I bet there are 100 emails in our boxes being generated by the people who have been fighting these,” she said.
The bill is scheduled for a vote Thursday in Clibborn’s committee. A vote isn’t scheduled in the Senate Transportation Committee, but both of the panel’s co-chairs, Republican Curtis King of Yakima and Democrat Tracey Eide of Des Moines, have signed on in support of the bill.
Interstate highways wouldn’t be affected, but the brightly lit stretch of Interstate 5 that many lawmakers pass through on their way to Olympia overshadows the debate all the same.
The local president of Clear Channel Outdoor, Pam Guinn, disputed the comparison to a flashing screen on tribal land near Fife, saying her company’s signs stay motionless for an average of eight seconds. “These signs are not the ‘TVs on a stick,’” she said.
She stressed the option for cities to refuse them in incorporated areas. “It does not mean that a city has to do this if they don’t wish to do this,” Guinn said.Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826 blog.thenewstribune.com/politics firstname.lastname@example.org @Jordan_Schrader