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Alice Khosravy: Role of government on display

Posted: January 17, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: January 17, 2014 2:00 a.m.

Recently, the community of Santa Clarita has been buzzing over potential billboard removals and the possibility of sign ordinance changes. It began when the Metro Group, who owns the land on which the billboards in question reside, approached the city with a proposal to remove every billboard in the Metro (railroad) right-of-way, within the Soledad Canyon Road and Railroad Avenue corridors, in the center of the city. This amounts to the permanent removal of 118 billboards on 62 structures along the Metro right-of-way in exchange for a change to the current sign ordinance that would allow them to build three, double-sided digital billboards on SR 14 (off Oak Springs Canyon and on Remsen) and I-5 (on the east side of Magic Mountain Parkway by the current monument sign). The construction of the billboards would take place over the course of 5 years and would provide for a lease of 50 years.

The three digital billboards along the freeways would be two-sided with dimensions of 14 feet tall and 48 feet wide. Pole height for each of the three signs would vary between 54 feet and 64 feet tall. The total amount of square feet for the existing 118 billboards is 25,830. The three new digital boards make up 4,032 square feet for a total reduction of 21,798 square feet of billboards in the City, equating to a 20:1 removal ratio. The proposal would provide stipulations that the city would realize a percentage of future revenue from advertising on the digital billboards, which is estimated to be $450,000-$600,000 per year. The city would also have some access to the three proposed digital billboards for emergency and event messaging.

The proposal from Metro Group assigned all responsibility for negotiating removal of the billboards owned by different billboard companies and to indemnify the city against potential lawsuits that could arise from the removal of these billboards. The existing contracts that the Metro Group has for the property already allow them to terminate the contracts with notice for 24 hours to 30 days.

What is at issue? There seem to be a few common threads of comment surrounding the proposal.

1. How does this impact local business?

2. What role should the city play in the relationship between the Metro Group and the billboard companies?

3. Should the city amend the current sign ordinance?

A billboard inventory of the impacted area from two weeks ago found that roughly 50% of the signage related to local businesses with the rest being utilized for national and regional advertising. The current proposal would not eliminate the ability of the same local businesses from advertising on the new billboards but an advertising cost differential is not currently available. There would certainly be some local businesses that would find advertising on the digital signage cost prohibitive.

However, the land belongs to the Metro Group which is proposing to act within its current contract terms. As times change so does advertising. The change in strategy by the Metro Group is simply an inevitable progression as advertisers demand the ability to provide better quality messaging with quicker production turn-around time and lower costs. The digital boards can rotate ads as slide shows in less than 10 seconds, allow for instant message changes with no additional production costs and stream live content generated by the Internet.

Some, in our community, have suggested that the city must demand that the Metro Group set aside as much as 50 percent of the ad space for local business for lower prices. This violates the basic premise that the Metro Group be allowed to manage their business mix. The business/property owner must be free to align and continually realign their business strategy and pricing as the market conditions dictate. It is simply not the role of the government, local or federal, to dictate winners and losers in the marketplace.

Additionally the sign ordinances in conflict with the proposal should be evaluated against a modern strategy and the anticipated future needs of Santa Clarita. If the proposal is in-line with strategy of our growing valley, then approve it. If they don’t, deny it. Ordinances can become stale and out of date just as product lines. When they no longer meet the needs of the community, they should be modified or discarded.

Do not use the situation to strong arm Metro Group (or any business) into creating a utopian business mix. The residents and businesses of Santa Clarita deserve policy that is sound and uniformly applied. Do not be swayed by those who ask for government over-reach into private contracts.


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