King County delays vote on digital billboards

Sep 26, 2011

The King County Council decided to take no action today on the contested digital billboards proposal. The vote will instead be held until Oct. 24, said Al Sanders, a spokesman for the council.

Sanders said details of the proposal were not yet ready for final action. The council felt that some elements within the ordinance still needed to be worked on before the proposal could be put to a vote.

The issue of digital billboards in Tacoma earlier this year resulted in heated debates, public backlash and back-pedaling by the Tacoma City Council. The city council ended up banning the use of digital billboards.

Nevertheless, the King County Council has decided to take up its own proposal to allow the tech-heavy signage.

Earlier this month, the county’s Transportation, Economy and Environment Committee unanimously recommended passage of changes in the ordinance that would “allow and regulate the use of digital technology on billboard faces."

Devil in the details?

According to a staff report, the changes would not allow the billboards to flash, blink, vary in intensity, show animation or other movement or the “optical illusion” of moment. Also, restrictions include:

  • each message change to be completed within two seconds;
  • each message to be displayed for a minimum of eight seconds;
  • a light sensing device that will adjust the brightness as ambient light conditions change; and
  • that brightness levels will not exceed three-tenths of a foot candles above ambient light, as measured using a foot candle meter at distances from the billboard of 250 feet for a Type I face and 150 feet for a Type II face.

The report also notes that the proposed changes come in response to a request from Clear Channel Outdoor. The amendments were sought to allow billboard advertisers, the report says, to use modern advertising practices already allowed for other types of signs in the county.

“In addition, [Clear Channel]has noted that digital billboard technology has afforded local law enforcement, the FBI and Crime Stoppers with a great outreach tool to the public (e.g. Amber Alerts). The use of digital technology would allow a billboard advertiser to continue to partner with these agencies to provide free public outreach,” the report says.

Fight in Tacoma

However, it was an arrangement the city of Tacoma made with Clear Channel earlier this year that started the big fight over digital signs there. The company had sued Tacoma 14 years ago over an ordinance to reduce billboards in the city. In the deal, the company would take down dozens of traditional billboards in exchange for the right to put up to 10 digital billboards in the city.

The Council agreed to the terms of the deal earlier this year, KING 5 reported. But it was immediately met with criticism from people who were concerned about flashing lights outside their homes.

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