Reporting Tacoma's billboard blight one click away

Are you tired of looking at blighted billboards in Tacoma?

If so, you are not alone.

For nearly a year now, Tacoma resident Kevin Freitas has taken to the Web to express his distaste for the faded, crumbled and weathered signs that pockmark the city’s skyline and neighborhoods. His Web series entitled “Hey, Clear Channel! Clean Up Your Crap!” is popular online (visit for the complete series). Now he has introduced a Web site to report blighted billboards to City Hall.

According to Freitas, Tacomans can visit , fill out an online form that notes the location (using GPS), billboard number, and code violation (sign falling off, tattered; exposed back not covered; structure not painted or rusting; sign unused/unchanged for 90+ days; not clear/free of debris; or structure failing), and click “send.” Freitas will then send an e-mail to City Hall with all of the information. He will also provide a spreadsheet documenting all of the reported violations.

“Instead of merely asking people to e-mail the City about offending billboards around town we wanted to do two things,” wrote Freitas in a post on his blog ( ). “First, we wanted to make it easy for folks to know exactly what counts as violations of Tacoma’s sign code so we know what we’re reporting are indeed local laws being broken by Clear Channel. Second, we wanted to urge government accountability and transparency on the issue by keeping our own database of these offenses so our e-mails don’t just go into a black hole somewhere in the City’s system.”

The issue dates 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 Outdoor sued the City of Tacoma and claimed its rights to free speech were violated. Tacoma City Council approved a six-month moratorium on constructing new billboards and modifying existing billboards within the city limits. The City later agreed to a settlement with Clear Channel that allowed approximately three-dozen new digital billboards to be built in exchange for removing a large number of old and existing billboards. The City, however, was flooded by comments from Tacoma residents who opposed the agreement and urged the city to stand by its original billboard ordinance. Clear Channel faced a deadline at the beginning of this month to remove 190 signs in violation of a revised code approved in August. City Manager T. C. Broadnax, however, announced the City would not enforce the deadline until later this year due to budget concerns and what many people expect to be a long and expensive legal battle with Clear Channel.

In addition to Fretias’s Web site, Tacomans can report billboard complaints by e-mailing or calling (253) 591-5001.

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