[KHTS] – Santa Clarita City Council members OK’d a much-maligned billboard proposal from Metro in front of a standing-room-only crowd at City Hall Tuesday night.
The council voted 3-1 to approve three 50-year leases, one for each of the three new freeway-adjacent billboard structures commissioned to replace 62 billboards throughout the city on Metro land during the six-plus-hour meeting.
As part of the agreement, Santa Clarita’s coffers are to receive a percentage of future revenues for the new digital billboards, and the opportunity to advertise municipal issues with a portion of the billboards’ rotating ad space reserved for city usage.
Santa Clarita Mayor Laurene Weste recused herself from the discussion and vote because she lives close to more than one of the billboards that would be taken down.
City Councilman TimBen Boydston asked for more time to consider the proposal in favor of a better deal for Santa Clarita and local business, but ultimately, he was outvoted.
However Boydston and Mayor Pro Tem Marsha McLean, who led the hearing, mentioned several concerns that were ultimately added to the contract.
“I think before we make a decision on this project, I should have the right to look at the calculations,” Boydston said, expressing frustration over the lack of information available to him in his decision-making process.
Boydston questioned everything from the visual impact to the lack of an environmental impact report to the revenues and language of the contract’s indemnity for more than an hour during the council’s comment period.
“I see this as a major win-win. I do understand that there are business owners who are affected and I do think we have a responsibility to help them,” said City Councilman Frank Ferry. “But at the same time, I think residents have made it quite clear that they would like to see us remove the billboards.”
Ferry also accused Boydston of trying to filibuster the meeting because he had a lengthy list of concerns.
There were several concerns brought up by Santa Clarita City Council members set to be added to the deal.
At one point nearly six hours into the meeting, City Councilwoman Marsha McLean asked Santa Clarita’s appointed negotiator if other cities that negotiated billboard proposals with Metro had gotten a better deal than Santa Clarita’s, the negotiator answered, “yes.”
“Then we need to talk about that, don’t we?” McLean said. All voted in favor of the deal except for Boydston, not including Weste’s abstention.
Two dozen residents spoke out against the deal, which came after nearly an hour of presentations from city staff, Metro officials and associates hired by AllVision, which is Metro’s partner in the deal.
Metro and AllVision, the private firm Metro contracted to help the proposal along, sponsored presentations on all aspects favoring the digital billboards, from the milliseconds drivers glance at the billboards to the NITS, or units for the measurement of the light intensity the signs project.
Six speakers spoke in favor of the plan. There were also six comments submitted against the plan, and one comment in favor of the plan.
A firm in favor of the deal brought forth a traffic engineering expert named Mike Tantala, who cited studies looking at the milliseconds drivers take to glance at the proposed digital billboards, which he claimed was a fraction of the federally accepted threshold.
Boydston showed a presentation mentioning safety concerns for the digital billboards, and then Tantala claimed the study was outdated, adding a federal study disproved the claims about safety concerns his presentation offered.
The residents against the plan complained about everything from the lack of local advertising venues the plan would create to the fact that the city’s plan to eliminate the “blight” of billboard involved pulling down billboards on the Metro right of way in exchange for three massive billboards on city property.
“(The billboard) has helped our business grow tremendously,” said John Smith, who spoke as the local owner of Molly Maid franchise. “My experience tells me …. that (the new digital) billboard advertising simply will not be affordable to (small businesses).”
Those in favor of the proposal, such as Valencia resident Tim Honadel, wanted to modernize the city, and thought the billboard-reduction plan would help do that.
“I like the idea of bringing the SCV out of the 1950s and into the 21st century,” Honadel said. “Change is hard, but I think we can get through this change.”
A website Santa Clarita officials created to solicit resident feedback for the billboard proposal from Metro received more than 100 postings before Tuesday’s meeting.
The Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce president also spoke in favor of the billboard-reduction plan.
“It’s our impression that there are many significant benefits,” said Jim Backer, president of JSB Development, “and an opportunity for new marketing of the community on the freeway.”
From the city’s perspective, the plan is not about the potential for $450-600,000 in revenue that would result from Metro’s proposal, said Gail Morgan, city spokeswoman for Santa Clarita.
It’s always been about beautifying the city by getting rid of the billboards, she said.
The Santa Clarita Planning Commission approved the proposal with a 3-1 vote Jan. 8.
“We have been trying for years to get rid of the billboards, especially along the Metro right of way and found it’s been very expensive to do that,” Morgan said in an earlier interview, alluding to past negotiations between city officials and Edwards Outdoor.
Those negotiations reportedly are ongoing, and Julie Edwards-Sanchez, who manages Edwards Outdoor Signs, asked the city to continue negotiations.
Both sides refused comment on the state of negotiations between the city and Edwards Outdoor Signs.