This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.
For many Tacomans, big billboards are anathema, a blight on the city. At packed meetings, residents pleaded with city officials to continue fighting the major billboard company, Clear Channel Outdoor, which wants to replace its static signs with digital ones that change the message on a regular basis.
So what about all that makes Tacoma Public Utilities officials think that the public would be happy about advertising its city-owned Click Network on billboards?
In December – four months after the City Council voted to update its outdoor sign ordinance by banning digital signs and getting rid of 190 nonconforming ones – Click contracted with Clear Channel to advertise on many of those same nonconforming signs. Its one-year contract funnels $105,415 to Clear Channel for at least 13 billboards and accompanying production costs.
For budgetary reasons, the city isn’t enforcing its tough new sign ordinance. Clear Channel has threatened to wage an expensive court battle, and City Manager T.C. Broadnax doesn’t want to incur those costs until after the end of the year, if then.
Even so, the law is on the books and public sentiment is more than clear. So Click’s decision to proceed with the contract is baffling – especially when it benefits a company that has shown its contempt for residents’ wishes and its willingness to wage a scorched-earth legal battle to have its way.
Metro Parks also advertises on Clear Channel billboards – and that, too, is an unwelcome choice. But at least the park district is a separate, distinct entity and not a part of municipal government like TPU.
Click Network is a business, but it is also a city asset, one owned by the citizens of Tacoma. As such, its advertising budget would be better spent on other marketing vehicles – ones not at odds with city law and its long-term interests.
Click has done other forms of advertising but decided that billboards would be more effective. Even if that is true, and could be measured in some way, that decision doesn’t take into account residents’ antipathy to billboards, especially the large nonconforming ones. Just because Click can advertise on billboards doesn’t mean it should.