Council Quest for Revenue Could Target City Parks

Revenue Source
Revenue Source

Dennis Hathaway of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight has several good reasons to be worried. As the city council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee grinds through further revisions of the city's sign regulations, he sees ever more plainly the handwriting on the wall. The latest political graffiti:

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Although it's unlikely that Perry's proposal will make much headway with a majority of council members, her suggestion adds to the council's drift toward monetizing public facilities (like selling advertising in parks) and privatizing risks (like shifting sidewalk repairs to property owners). Lost in this hustle is any consideration of the proper role of the city in protecting the common good or equitably sharing its costs.

Perry's letter also questioned standards in the draft ordinance regulating the special districts that permit installation of bigger and brighter signs not allowed outside the district. Restrictions on the minimum size of a sign district are supposed to prevent the creation of a mini-"single project" district that would, presumably, benefit a single advertiser or property owner.

Perry, however, is siding with lobbyists for the outdoor advertising industry and wants to shrink the minimum street frontage for a sign district from 5,000 feet to about 2,600 feet.

City planners talk about enhancing the streetscape through signage standards, but the unspoken justification is that if a sign district can be configured to benefit a particular business, then city council members will use it as another tool for leveraging political gain.

Perry also offered support to advertisers and building owners whose existing signs might be targeted for removal under the proposed ordinance. Perry and Councilman Ed Reyes have suggested that these signs could stay if the sign's owner paid for street improvements - in effect, trading income producing visual blight above for sidewalk repairs below. As Dennis Hathaway noted:

For city council members, fatally weakening the proposed sign ordinance is a perfect melding of interests. Developers and advertisers get to keep their existing wall-spanning signs and install more of them elsewhere. Council members get the usual "quid pro quo" for serving the only constituency that seems to matter. And the city gets to abandon even more of the bothersome care of its neighborhoods.

You could call it a sign of the times.

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