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Our View: Put billboards on the ballot

Posted: June 15, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: June 15, 2014 2:00 a.m.

The brouhaha over billboards in the city of Santa Clarita — a controversy that divided residents in the spring and threatens to continue doing so through the rest of this year — is among the more unnecessary to face Santa Clarita Valley residents in the city’s 27 years of existence.

The issue is really quite simple: Should the city prevail in its quest to rid itself of as many unsightly billboards as possible — a goal sought since the city was founded — by trading 62 billboard structures (118 billboard faces) along the Metro railroad right-of-way in Newhall, Saugus and Canyon Country in exchange for three double-sided electronic billboards on SCV freeways and a new revenue stream?

Had the Santa Clarita City Council (with the exception of newly elected Councilman Dante Acosta) approached the issue in a transparent fashion, it would have presented this question to residents up front, which would have allowed public debate on the details (where, as they say, the devil can be found).

Instead, council members all but inked the deal with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority before they went public with it. Yes, public hearings were held, but it appeared the council members had already made up their minds.

Now they lie in the bed they made. On June 24, due to an overwhelming petition-signing backlash from city voters, the council is scheduled to decide whether to revoke the deal with Metro or put the issue on the ballot for public vote.

We at The Signal aren’t particularly fond of the initiative process. We live in a representative government, not a pure democracy; not every issue should be put to a public vote.

At the same time, we recognize the initiative process is the last resort of a frustrated people whose wishes are being disregarded by their elected representatives. That’s the situation here.

The city faces a disadvantage if it decides to make its case to voters now. Its credibility on the back side of the issue is tarnished by its handling on the front side.

But taking the issue off the table would be wrong. The people have called for a vote: the city needs to deliver on that request. What could be more transparent than a vote of the people for an issue on which they’ve demanded to be heard?

We hope the City Council will seize this opportunity and put the billboard deal on a ballot. Then let both sides prepare their arguments and let the debates begin — in an orderly and informative, and most of all transparent, fashion.

Such a move might help restore public trust in the council.

We at The Signal welcome the opportunity to host a debate on the billboard issue, as we did the first of many City Council election debates this year.

And let’s hope that some of our elected officials have learned a lesson about representing their constituents in a transparent fashion.



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