RRNA Officially Opposes Digital Billboards and the Proposed Electrical Ordinance

Digital Billboard

The following letter will be submitted to the City of San Antonio’s Electrical Supervising Board and City Council Members. Please take the time to go down and voice your concern for the beauty of San Antonio, and River Road. The public hearing on digital billboards will be held at 1901 S. Alamo on Tuesday, September 11th and 9:30 a.m.

UPDATE: “San Antonio’s electrical supervisory board agreed Monday to recommend a city ordinance to regulate the light-emitting diode signs, or LEDs, but suggested capping permits to 10 for the first year and banning their use on older billboards that are exempt from current restrictions.” Read the SAExpress News Article Here. (Or download it a PDF) So the battle isn’t over to protect our views and night sky, but this is a good start!

If you would like to know more about this new form of advertising, check out the Electronic Billboards PDF from Scenic America’s website or review their website at Scenic America.

Read the Letter Below!

To the Electrical Supervisory Board of the City of San Antonio:

We, members of the River Road Neighborhood Association, are opposed to the City of San Antonio allowing off-premise signs to use digital sign displays. We support a prohibition against any digital signs that may affect our neighborhood.

The Electrical Supervisory Board was formed with safety in mind, and is charged with protecting us. We appreciate the responsibility this places on you. However, it seems that the City is placing the burden of proof, with regard to the safety and acceptability of this new technology, on the public and the neighborhoods. We believe that what should be happening is that the billboard industry should have the burden of proof upon them. They should be required to show us why this is not going to have any negative consequences, or how it will benefit us. If the City is going to give up the controls over visual pollution on this, what do we gain? Will this make our neighborhood and the city more attractive? Will it create jobs? How is this of benefit to anyone, other than the billboard industry?

Our opposition is based on health, safety and welfare concerns, and on the burden that digital signs put on the scenic resources of our neighborhood. Not one credible study shows that these digital displays are safe.

Digital billboards should not be allowed near residential areas. The negative impact of light-emitting signs on housing is well documented. Both USA Toady and the Los Angeles Times have run stories regarding this, describing the glow of the signs interrupting residents blocks away. The sound of the fans required to cool these signs is also objectionable. USA Today quotes Jean Bushnell in the Comstock Hills neighborhood, who lives near one of these digital billboards, ”It is a miserable thing for those of us who live near them.” We have four billboards that tower above our neighborhood right now.

This proposed ordinance attempts to deal with the ill-effects of digital signs on motorists, but has no mention of effects on neighborhoods. The ordinance recognizes that these billboards should not be placed more than a set distance apart, but does not place any restrictions on how close they may be from adjacent schools, churches or residential areas. A bright source of light that changes color every eight seconds is objectionable, and is an imposition upon surrounding properties.

Our neighborhood borders US 281, and this roadway is already prone to accidents from drivers not paying attention to the road. A driver was killed on Saturday night near St. Mary’s and 281. Digital billboards would be one more distraction, and should not be allowed near roadways. Studies show that drivers who take their eyes off the road for more than two seconds are far more likely to suffer a crash. A message that changes every eight seconds causes a distraction. The city should place a moratorium on all billboard permits until definitive safety research is concluded. Proponents say that nobody has ever proven that they increase traffic accidents; this statement is only partially true. Some studies have shown a link between digital billboards and traffic safety problems, while others remained inconclusive. Again, the burden of proof should be on the billboard industry, and no objective studies have shown them to be safe, nor have studies been conducted since these signs have started to proliferate.

The study the billboard industry uses, by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute lacks credibility, and was thrown out of court by a federal district court judge in New York. On the other hand, a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study, released in 2006, showed that taking one’s eyes off the road for more than two seconds for any reason not directly related to driving (such as checking the rearview mirror) “significantly increased individual near-crash/crash risk.” Drivers are likely to look at an electronic sign for more than two seconds at a time, and therefore put themselves and others at risk, because they are extremely bright- they are designed to be eye-catching. We understand that there is a Federal Highway Administration study underway now, and we would like to see the results of that study.

Digital billboards should not be allowed in any scenic corridor such as the River Improvement Overlay District, in which our neighborhood is located, nor any historic district, nor near any historic resource. Our neighborhood is adjacent to Brackenridge Park and is an entry point for visitors coming into downtown from the airport. This entry to the city should remain as scenic as possible, and existing billboards should be removed, not made more apparent.

Existing billboards should not be allowed to be converted to digital billboards, especially non-conforming billboards in the River Improvement Overlay District. As a city we should be working to remove non-conforming signs, not invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in them. The thought that the Electrical Supervisory Board would allow non-conforming signs to be improved goes against the idea of declaring them non-conforming. Non-conforming means these billboards were legal when they were put up, but do not meet the current requirements of the law. They would be illegal if put up today. If a non-conforming billboard is converted to a digital billboard, how will that affect its non-conforming status?

We ask you to reject digital billboards from our neighborhood, and the San Antonio skyline. We would at least expect you to delay any action on this until the results of safety studies can be considered. There is no evidence that these signs are safe. In fact, we are taking on a huge potential liability. No empirical studies are necessary for reasonable people to conclude that billboards pose a traffic hazard, since by their very nature they are designed to distract drivers and their passengers from maintaining their view of the road.

What is the hurry to adopt these changes?

We propose that any change to Chapter 28 be given more consideration by the public. The speed with which this revision was put together seems to be an attempt to “fly under the radar” of public opinion and oversight. Your board, and an oversight committee appointed by the City Council, at the very least, should see simulations and actual examples of these displays in operation, in the field, at an absolute minimum, prior to any change being adopted.

The public wants tighter billboard controls. We in the River Road Neighborhood are blessed with scenic beauty, history and character. Most people agree that billboards degrade scenic beauty and community character. According to at least eight (8) polls, 70% of people in the United States are anti-billboard. A 2005 survey conducted in Arizona found that by a margin of 73 percent to 21 percent, citizens opposed laws that would allow electronic billboards on the state’s highways.

In a poll conducted at our last neighborhood meeting, 100% of the residents polled stated they want to reduce the number of billboards. The residents unanimously upheld the importance of efforts to make major improvements in the beautification of the city. Every resident polled supported maintaining or strengthening the city’s billboard ordinance, and every resident polled in River Road agreed that fewer billboards would make our area more attractive to tourists

The reason people from all over the world come to San Antonio is for its natural beauty, history, and our distinctive community character (Will Rogers called it “unique”). Let’s keep it unique. Digital billboards just add more visual clutter and blight. We are tired of seeing our scenic neighborhood’s skyline and roadsides degraded, and we urge you to reject these proposed changes to Chapter 28 allowing digital displays on billboards.

Thank you.

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