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Billboard issue back on City Council agenda for March 25

Fervent crowd brought temporary adjournment of Tuesday meeting

Posted: March 12, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: March 12, 2014 2:00 a.m.
 

Santa Clarita City Council members voted 3-1 Tuesday night to take up the issue of billboards at their March 25 meeting after county transit officials did an about-face on the question of legal responsibility.

The council agenda recommended the city reject a proposal from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority that would remove 62 billboard structures around the city located in the Metro right-of-way. In exchange, Metro would construct three electronic billboards adjacent to Santa Clarita Valley freeways.

While the city has long favored removing billboards, the issue in this case was a legal sticking point: Santa Clarita wanted Metro to assume liability in the event a lawsuit or lawsuits were brought over the electronic billboards. Metro said “no” to shouldering legal responsibility.

But in a letter received by the city Tuesday, Metro agreed to the indemnity issue, city spokeswoman Gail Morgan said.

In a related matter, City Manager Ken Striplin announced at the sometimes-raucous City Council meeting that the city had reached a tentative agreement to purchase 47 billboard structures within the city owned by a local outdoor advertising firm.

The city would buy the billboard structures from Edwards Outdoor Signs, the only locally owned business providing billboards in the Santa Clarita Valley.

The issue of the Metro-city deal over billboards brought out a sometimes-unruly crowd Tuesday night. Most spoke in opposition to electronic billboards on the Santa Clarita Valley’s two freeways, and the meeting was adjourned at one point due to audience applause, which violates council meeting rules.

“Electronic billboards are not good for Santa Clarita,” said Valencia resident Patti Sulpizio. Gesturing to the city seal on the wall behind the council, Sulpizio pointed out the suburban home with its running-rail fence, the rolling green hills and the oak tree.

“Where in that picture would you put the electronic billboard?” she asked council members.

Citing the value of the green belt around Santa Clarita, resident Ken Chase told council members, “You don’t want the encroachment of blight from L.A. City. And now you’re creating it yourself.”

City Councilman TimBen Boydston won a concession from City Manager Ken Striplin that one of the proposed electronic billboard sites is zoned for open space. He argued the agreement with Metro would remove blight from one part of the city but add it to another.

Boydston called for a vote to deny the agreement with Metro, but it failed for lack of a second.

After an argument between Boydston and Councilwoman Marsha McLean over procedure, the council voted 3-1 to consider the Metro agreement at its March 25 meeting, with Boydston casting the “no” vote.

Mayor Laurene Weste abstained on the issue and left the meeting. She has said she lives too near one of the areas where billboards would be removed, and so the issue presents a conflict of interest.

The plan to swap old billboards for new electronic ones was proposed to the city by Metro, which owns the land where the billboards are placed, mostly along Railroad Avenue and Soledad Canyon Road.

The proposal fit nicely with the city’s goal of ridding itself of billboards. But it met with opposition from many residents outraged by the idea of what they called “Las Vegas-style electronic billboards” on Santa Clarita Valley freeways.

Speaking in defense of the Metro deal, Councilman Frank Ferry said he hasn’t encountered an outpouring of opposition to electronic billboards, as he says he usually does on universally opposed issues. Except at council meeting.

Referring to a directive earlier in the meeting instructing the audience to wave their hands, rather than clap, in agreement, Ferry said, “I right now have 199,000 other people waving their hands ... (saying) ‘We just are normal. We just don’t come to meetings.”

“You just insulted us,” an audience member shot back at him.

Ferry apologized, but the audience shushed him each time he spoke after that.

McLean, who presided over the meeting in Weste’s absence, scolded the audience, “You’re acting like a bunch of children, I’m telling you. We’re here to listen to you, now we’d like you to listen to us.”

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