Tacoma’s billboard working group has first meeting next week

A community group that will work on new rules for billboards in Tacoma will have its first meeting Monday.

The group of about two dozen people could recommend changes to city code, with the goal of reducing the number of billboards in residential areas and historic districts. Any changes would have to be approved by the Planning Commission, then the City Council.

The working group is part of a “time-out” in a legal battle between Clear Channel Outdoor and the City of Tacoma. In 1997, the council passed an ordinance meant to eradicate billboards in the city within 10 years. Clear Channel sued the city just before the 2007 deadline, arguing the law was unconstitutional.

To end the court fight, the council made a deal with Clear Channel to remove 85 percent of billboards in exchange for a few digital billboards on main roads. But citizen outcry caused the council to back away from the settlement and instead ban digital billboards and require removal of nonconforming signs.

Two years ago, city and Clear Channel officials agreed to a time-out in the court fight.

The working group has spots for 25 people representing a variety of interests, from neighborhood councils, business districts, historic preservation, nonprofit and advertising sectors, and billboard companies themselves.

According to a list provided Wednesday by the city, some of Tacoma’s staunch billboard opponents are group members, including Doug Schafer and Tricia DeOme, who led the Central Neighborhood Council’s opposition to the settlement that would have allowed digital billboards; and Jill Jensen and Britton Sukys, who now represent Scenic Tacoma. Sharon Winters of Historic Tacoma is a member, as are representatives of Tacoma Mall, the state transportation department, and the Port of Tacoma.

Two Clear Channel representatives are also on panel. The Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber and the Puyallup Tribe haven’t named their representatives yet.