Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Bad Billboards

Apparently L.A. has a problem with their skyline. And, no, it's not smog.

LA Weekly reported this week on 4,000 illegal billboards in the LA area, including one erected last November "in full view of the windowed offices of Los Angeles city billboard inspectors."

On top of that — or as high as that, at least — the city is letting CBS, Clear Channel, and Regency erect 877 light-emitting-diode advertising signs in a sweetheart deal.

The story goes into a lot of detail and history, probably more than the local reader might be interested in. However, in March, the Memphis City Council lifted an almost-two-year-old moratorium on construction of "regular" billboards.

At the same time, they approved a 6-month moratorium on new electronic and digital billboards and old, regular billboards getting rehabbed to digital. The plan is that the new Memphis and Shelby County sign ordinance will be rewritten by then, and it will establish guidelines for digital billboards.

This is something worth watching. Billboards are big business. The city's billboard ordinance keeps new billboards off city streets, only allowing billboards to be erected along interstates. (Obviously, the ones that already exist are grandfathered in.)

Though part of the ordinance prohibits billboard owners from replacing existing billboards on city streets, there's been a bit of legal wrangling from time to time over what "replacing" means (for instance, can a billboard company upgrade a crappy, existing billboard, thus extending its life another 20 years?) Former city council members Rickey Peete and Edmund Ford were both charged with accepting bribes over a billboard project. The billboard companies have even gone after each other from time to time.

The Weekly story echoes something consultant Eric Kelly told the council a few years ago: "When you look at sex businesses in Memphis, it's worse here than in other places," he said. "But with signage, Memphis is in the same boat as everybody else."