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Tacoma City Council cracks down on billboards, ditching legal settlement with Clear Channel

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on Aug. 9, 2011 at 6:53 pm with 6 Comments »
August 10, 2011 8:03 am

Tacoma’s City Council called today for quick removal of at least 190 billboards, and possibly dozens more, reigniting a legal fight with sign owner Clear Channel Outdoor.

The council voted 7-1, with Joe Lonergan opposed and Spiro Manthou absent, to tighten zoning restrictions for billboards, set a new deadline for removal of those that don’t comply, and ban the modern versions that switch messages electronically.

By keeping digital billboards out of Tacoma, the council backs out of a legal settlement with Clear Channel that it had approved unanimously last year.

The agreement called for allowing Clear Channel to put up digital boards in exchange for tearing down traditional signs that don’t conform to the law. Though that part of the deal will now be defunct, the agreement also calls on the city to pay Clear Channel the market value of billboards the company is forced to remove outside the agreement. That could be ammunition for a court challenge.

“This has the potential to cost the taxpayers millions of dollars,” Michael Mayes, Clear Channel Outdoor’s Seattle real estate director, told the council tonight. “It opens the city up to additional legal exposure and significant financial risk.”

Councilmen David Boe and Marty Campbell proposed the law, which doubles the required space between billboards and places like residential districts, parks, churches, schools and historic districts.

City planners say they haven’t determined how many more signs will become “nonconforming” under the proposed rules. Staff had determined roughly 193 of the city’s 253 billboard faces didn’t conform to the old rules.

All nonconforming signs would have to be removed within six months. Permits that allow companies to replace a demolished billboard in a new spot would expire after a year. Clear Channel holds 169 of those relocation permits.

The law adds landscaping and lighting requirements, including a ban on flashing lights. It lays out how billboard faces must be mounted on their structures.

Council members agreed the council would return to the topic of digital signs. Considering there are  electronic signs at city facilities Cheney Stadium and the Tacoma Dome, Mayor Marilyn Strickland said, the city needs to set fair standards.

“At some point in the future, in the near future, we’re going to have  a serious conversation about digital and talk about where digital can fit into our landscape, because I do think it’s possible,” Strickland said.

UPDATED 7:10 p.m.

Leave a comment Comments → 6
  1. TheMASO says:

    Finally I can make a positive comment about the actions of the city council…it takes guts to do the right thing for the people of this city!!!

  2. poor Joe Lonergan. I don’t think Olivia Lippens gave him anything to read unlike the chamber of commerce stooge.

  3. Clear Channel Outdoor billboard monopoly has had 14 long years to recoup the value of its illegal billboards. For 14 long years Clear Channel sat on its hands, waiting till the last minute to sue and just recently actually sign the agreement.

    It’s time to take out the trash.

  4. This issue is a major loser for Tacoma. Clear Channel will probably win in court and we’ll be out the revenue even if the City does prevail.

    Tough to say that a digital billboard is less bright than a traditionally lighted one or less distracting than the Rialto’s sign.

    A few digital signs going up in exchange for almost 300 coming down is still a better deal in my opinion.

  5. I couldn’t be prouder of Tacoma. Thank-you City Council and Mayor Strickland for listening to us! I dig it!

    (Relax, we’ll win in court…And the Rialto sign is gorgeous. No comparison to a 672 sq’ billboard in a neighborhood that just got named the hottest place to buy a home in the nation…)


  6. Savvy_Reader says:

    Courage by the Council. Thank you not caving, and for listening to your constituents and doing what you know is right. Long after you are off the council, a more beautiful Tacoma will be your legacy.

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