Big turnout expected at City Hall Tuesday for Tacoma billboard ordinance

Photo by ‘Turn Out That Light Tacoma’ via Facebook –

Tacoma City Council is scheduled Tuesday to hear the final reading of an ordinance that would adopt the findings of Tacoma’s planning commission supporting a billboard moratorium enacted in May, as well as amend the moratorium to “exempt vested applications for billboard application permits and applications for repair of existing billboards for implementation of safety improvements mandated by state or federal standards,” according to a statement released by City Hall on Friday.

On May 17, City Council unanimously approved a six-month moratorium on constructing new billboards and modifying existing billboards within the city limits. The decision was the latest chapter of an issue that has dated back to 1997, when the city approved a billboard ordinance aimed to do away with what the city determined to be the biggest, ugliest, and most disruptive billboards by Aug. 1, 2007. A decade later and shortly before the ordinance went into effect, Clear Channel sued the City of Tacoma and claimed its rights to free speech were violated.

Last year, City Council agreed to a settlement with Clear Channel that allowed 38 new digital billboards to be built in exchange for removing 253 existing billboards and relinquishing the permits for 169 other billboards. Tacoma’s planning commission, however, received overwhelming input from Tacoma residents who opposed the agreement and urged the city to stand by its original billboard ordinance. Hence, the billboard moratorium.

In preparation for this week’s city council meeting, Tacoma’s Central Neighborhood Council has announced it will submit 1,400 signatures in opposition to digital billboard to the City Clerk’s office at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, followed by a rally at 4:30 p.m. outside City Hall. At 5:30 p.m., City Council will hold a public hearing on the issue prior to voting on the ordinance.

“In previous public hearings, Tacoma residents have made it crystal clear that they do not want blightful digital billboards in the City of Tacoma,” said Trica DeOme, chair of the Central Neighborhood Council, in an e-mail on July 17. “The Tacoma City Council should listen to their citizens and work completed by previous councils and ban digital billboards in their entirety and remove all non-conforming static billboards.”

Tuesday’s city council meeting will begin at 5 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, on the first floor of the Tacoma Municipal Building, 747 Market Street. To download a copy of the agenda and meeting materials, visit . The meeting will be broadcast live on TV Tacoma and on . On-demand audio archives are available on the Web within 24 hours of the meeting at .

On July 12, Tacoma City Council heard the first reading of the ordinance during its meeting. At that time, many people testified on both sides of the issue. Here are some of the public comments from that meeting.

Sharon Winters, Historic Tacoma

I believe that the moratorium should be extended and that council refer the issue back to the planning commission for further study, public input and refinement. In hindsight, there should have been more public hearing. That agreement pandered to the agreement of Clear Channel and did not serve the interests of Tacoma citizens well.

At this point, the theme seems to be expediency — let’s let Clear Channel build a few digital billboards and get rid of lots of traditional billboards that clutter the city and be done with it. Policy driven by expediency presents us with a sad commentary on Tacoma’s future. If the Northern Pacific railroad had chosen to be expedient, we wouldn’t have the rail buildings in the district. We wouldn’t have Union Station housing the federal courthouse, a museum district and the UW Tacoma campus. The evolution of the city’s environment should not be driven by expediency but the understanding of the city character.

Billboards will lend our neighborhoods all the charm of an interstate highway, billboards which, due to the expense of construction and their inevitable obsolescence, will become historic, jumbo, abandoned digital billboards in time. This is the kind of legacy we leave behind when we can’t enact the correct vision for Tacoma.

(Editor’s note: For more information on Historic Tacoma and the billboard ordinance, visit ).

Paula Rees, Maestri Design

Eight years ago, the City of Tacoma hired my firm, Maestri Design, to work on a revitalization project for your downtown retail and we brought in consultants from all over the country to shop every square inch of your downtown. We were pleasantly surprised at the opportunity of Tacoma and to come back today and see what Tacoma is — just a really wonderful experience.

I have since been involved in working overseas as well as around the United States. I have watched what has happened to communities that have taken on the digital billboards and I would beg you, please consider this very, very seriously. Most recently, I was in Los Angeles working. There were billboards 20 stories tall hanging on dilapidated buildings with nobody in it. The revenue was going to just one source.

I came back from a trip to Phoenix where, again, they would come in to communities and plant one big tripod billboard that you could see from 20 miles away, and now the City of Phoenix is actually looking at what they can do to back out of this.

I was recently in Detroit. You get off the red eye, there’s digital billboard after digital billboard after digital billboard.

Tacoma is a beautiful city and incredible place. Both Tacoma and Seattle have been leaders in telling this industry, time and time again, we don’t want anymore. And unfortunately, across the country, other cities just like yours are calling sudden moratoriums.

You are being watched across the country by people who are hoping that Tacoma will step forward and say, ‘We really need to understand this before we go any further.’ I can guarantee you in talking to 20 different metropolitan cities around the country, nobody knows this is coming as fast as they are. So please get the best professional, most current advice.

I just feel that having worked so hard, and to see how far Tacoma has come and what a wonderful place it is, that this is a real detrimental decision to just let it go without that kind of consideration.

When I drove up 6th [Avenue] today and I looked at it, those billboards are predominant over a wonderful village that has come up as a street that is one-story tall, and looming above it are these huge billboards and these things are going to get bigger. I can’t read the one that just got put up by Clear Channel as you come in to town. I don’t know what it says and if I try to figure out what it says, I will be in an accident. This is what I am concerned about.

Please, Tacoma, you are so beautiful, your streets, your sidewalks, your parking, you have figured it out. You have great retail, great waterfront, your museums are cool. Don’t let digital billboards take over your environment.

Janine Terrano, Topia Technology

I would like to speak on the moratorium regarding digital billboards. I realize it will likely pass, but I am here to oppose it. I am hoping you will take my comments under consideration as you move forward with this topic, and I realize it is a heated topic.

I think what’s important to understand is that while the Internet has changed the face of advertising, and my company is very grateful for that, there are many businesses in the Tacoma area and a number of small towns that, quite frankly, still need to have access to advertising that is localized. It does not do a professional services organization or a tire retailer any good to have a user in Kansas City enter in a Google search and find them in Tacoma, Washington. So local advertising is important and I think we all can agree the issues businesses have had to face over the last several years have been difficult given the economic climate, and Tacoma has had its share of bad circumstances relative to business. So if you look at digital advertising, digital billboards specifically, it is the wave of the future. It is coming. And I think what is important is we’re judicious in our efforts to find the best fit for them, and I don’t think that banning them is the way to go.

I would also like to point out that these billboards also provide a number of public service announcements that are free of charge to organizations like Boys and Girls Club, Crimestoppers, et cetera. And frankly, there are underserved individuals that actually receive information from these billboards that they would not otherwise have. They don’t necessarily have access to a computer or read the daily newspaper or listen to a television and, candidly, might find the information they need at the moment they need it on that street corner.

Now, I have loved this community. I am very active and involved in a number of non-profits and not suggesting we litter our hillsides with these billboards. But I am suggesting we give the proper consideration to how they might fit into our communities.

R. R. Anderson, Tacoma political cartoonist

Hello, I am R. R. Anderson, political cartoonist for and I would like to make statements in support of the billboard moratorium. First of all, it takes a healthy heart to stand up to Clear Channel and their corporate overlords.

The noise issue of the billboards is, I don’t think, totally addressed in the moratorium at all and I think we need to consider that. If Clear Channel maintains their billboards as they do now, the noise will just get worse as the bearings in the fans wear out. It will sound a little something like this — Ehhhhhhh! — which some city councilmen have said a weed whacker will sound worse than that. But as time goes on, it will sound more like — Uhhhhhh!

We’re not Las Vegas and we’re also not Mayberry and we’re also not Federal Way and we’re also not Fife. We’re not the sovereign nation of the Puyallup tribes, not University Place, not Renton, not Tukwila, Tumwater, not Graham, not Elbe, not Gilligan’s Island, not Magnum P.I., not the Munsters, we’re not snorts or Lost In Space. We’re not any television program current or in the past. We are Tacoma, the City of Destiny.

So please support the moratorium and consider the noise because there’s too much noise and why can’t we just, you know, enjoy a nice quiet evening with our wives in a restaurant without the TV?

I suggest the flame-thrower approach. Pull all the billboards down, donate the scrap metal to the Kalakala because, God knows, they need the metal and that is my solution. That is a win-win, win, win, win. And I know you like win-wins so this is the mother of all win-win wins.

Robert Hill, Tacoma resident

I am still against the moratorium, still against the emergency status of the moratorium. I don’t believe that the case has been presented for any public violation of health, safety and welfare. I would point out in the third district of the city there are some mini-billboards that have existed for some time, Gold Masters on Sixth, Gray Lumber on Sixth, and the automobile repair ship on 56th and South Tacoma Way. I believe there’s others and maybe citizens want to go on a treasure hunt and see how terrible those signs are. I would hope that the moratorium ends as soon as possible.

Denny Faker, Tacoma resident

I’m Denny Faker from the Stadium Business District. I live in the North End of Tacoma [and I am a] new member of the North Tacoma Neighborhood Council. When I spoke to you before about the issue of the Tacoma billboards, I reminded you how many people I talk to just like you do in a day’s work, and I got my point across in that I got a chance to get a lot of opinions from people on this issue. On this issue, the vast majority of people I speak with do not to want see the digital billboards in Tacoma. I thank you for considering extending the moratorium because it is valuable time for people to be educated about this issue. You people are wise lawmakers and city fathers and I think that this is a great opportunity for you also to take your time and don’t knee-jerk, give it some good thought . . . and represent the people who are the voting taxpayers of Tacoma and what their wishes are as our representatives.

Kyle Ohm, Tacoma resident

I am a resident of Tacoma and speaking in opposition of the moratorium. It is my belief the moratorium should only be used in instances where things are being actively worked on and this doesn’t really seem to have a clear path to resolution outside of this settlement. So I support appropriate regulation of billboards in the city and an outright ban on digital billboards is extreme. I don’t think Tacoma wants to send a mixed message with wanting to be a wired city and then not finding reasonable ways to regulate new forms of technology. Digital advertising already exists. It is being utilized everywhere. You can’t get toothpicks back into the tube, unfortunately. I mean, I did hear the city traffic department uses this technology, WSDOT uses this technology, Cheney Stadium, Tacoma Dome. So I want to see a balance struck between community and business interests. I also think that, you know, the tone of the debate has gotten a little out of hand. I think there are some people getting personal with this and I think that’s going too far. So I would like to see the city continue to work on this.

Kevin Freitas, Tacoma resident (via e-mail)

I regret that I can’t join in on tonight’s city council meeting but would like to express my ongoing support for our billboard moratorium as a matter of public record. Please, however, make it exceedingly clear that and pending permit issued related to billboards are only for safety improvements and nothing else. Seeing how keen Clear Channel is to parse our city code language and sue also please make certain no reasonable loopholes exist that allow conversion of any current billboards to digital billboards.

I’d like to submit my blog series showing unkept billboards and all related commentary into the public record as means to display that Clear Channel doesn’t care about us except to take our money. They’re watching this closely because every offending billboard blogged about has since been re-covered with an ad sometimes the very same day my blog posts went public. The latest and links to other of these posts can be found at .

Thank you all so much for your ongoing work on this and other city business and for helping stand up for a more livable Tacoma by saying “no” to digital billboards and refining our sign code to help eliminate non-conforming billboards from our neighborhoods.The choice is clear: Tacoma opts out from billboard blight!

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