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Dozens rally in opposition to Santa Clarita's billboard plan

Posted: March 25, 2014 7:03 p.m.
Updated: March 25, 2014 7:03 p.m.

Sandra Balaram of Valencia stands with a group of about 35 citizens who gathered in front of City Hall as they hold placards demonstrating against digital billboards in Santa Clarita on Tuesday evening. Signal photo by Dan Watson.

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About 35 Santa Clarita Valley residents waved signs reading “Stop digital billboards” and “Say no to electronic billboards” Tuesday in front of City Hall as the City Council prepared to vote on the contentious billboard issue.

“My biggest objection to this is that the city did not hold a public hearing before they made the deal,” said Steve Petzold of Saugus, one of the organizers of Tuesday’s rally.

“We the people never got a chance to put in our voice until the deal was done.”

Others objected to the duration of the proposed 50-year contract with the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which calls for Metro to remove 62 separate billboard structures near railroad tracks in the city in exchange for building three double-sided electronic billboards on city property next to Santa Clarita Valley freeways.

The city introduced the agreement as a beautification proposal. But public opposition has grown, with many residents saying the “blight” of electronic billboards outweighs the ugliness of existing low-tech billboards.

“It’s an eyesore for our city,” said Ken Chase, a Newhall resident who carried a sign reading “More blight is not right.”

“People drive through Santa Barbara and see its beauty, but if they drive through Santa Clarita they will just remember the billboards.”

Chase and others expressed dismay at the length of the proposed 50-year contract between the city and Metro.

The City Council approved it once last month and was expected to give a final approval Tuesday night.

Chase said his teenage daughters will be 65 and 68 years old before the billboard deal expires.

Nanette Meister of Newhall, a 37-year resident of the Santa Clarita Valley, said she also objects to the length of the contract and questioned why the councilseems unwilling to take a break and measure public input more before making a final decision.

“I don’t like the rush,” Meister said. “I don’t like having the vote just before an election.”

Canyon Country resident Rick Drew joined the demonstration with a sign that read “No incumbents.” He said the billboard vote and the election are the same issue.

“This is all part of the process that’s gone on with the council jamming things down people’s throats,” Drew said. “They’re great at announcing from a committee at one meeting to voting on it the next. It’s definitely time for a change.”

The demonstrators lined Valencia Boulevard in front of City Hall around 5 p.m. Tuesday waving their signs as passing motorists honked support. The council meeting at which a final vote on the billboard deal was expected began at 6 p.m.

It promised to be a long one, with several high-interest issues on the agenda, as well as a tribute to outgoing City Council member Frank Ferry scheduled at the opening of the meeting.

Metro approached the city with the proposed deal to pull old billboards from its railroad-adjoining land in exchange for leases on the land next to the freeways. The city would enjoy a monetary benefit from the deal, as well.

The city favored the Metro proposal because it meets a long-held goal of removing as many billboards as possible within city limits.

In a 3-1 vote — with Mayor Laurene Weste abstaining and Councilman TimBen Boydston opposing — the council approved the measure in February.

But a second approval is required, and public opposition has grown to the deal that adds electronic billboards standing 14 feet tall and 48 feet wide alongside SCV freeways.

The billboards would be mounted on poles varying between 54 feet tall and 64 feet tall.

Further criticism was leveled at the city when it was revealed one of the locations proposed for an electronic billboard is currently zoned open space. City officials point out it was previously zoned for business use and is not an undeveloped piece of land.

 

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