Posts Tagged ‘billboard’

2nd June
2009
written by Arizona Kid

We have word that Tucson’s Mayor and Council have voted to settle with Clear Channel Outdoor over the ongoing dispute over locations of many of their billboards.

The crux of the argument revolves around a large number of Clear Channel billboards that aren’t exactly where they are supposed to be. Back in the Eller Outdoor and Whitco Outdoor days it seems that installers ‘inadvertantly’ put dozens of boards in ‘company advantageous locations’.

The man that single handedly has made it his mission to battle Goliath is Mark Meyer. From The Tucson Weekly’s Chris Limberis, Jan. 2004:

Mark Mayer will tell you–with the obsessive passion of a researcher seeking a cure–how many billboards are in Tucson, how many are just outside the city limits, how many are out of compliance with zoning and building codes and why. He will tell you if one is 20 feet or 50 feet beyond a setback, which ones are too tall or too big, which are illegally lit and which are out of place in historic zones.

Mayer will tell you the taxable value of the 410 or so billboards in Tucson, and why he thinks media conglomerate Clear Channel, which has a virtual monopoly on Tucson billboards, is evading 97 percent of its tax bill.

Put Mayer in the middle of the audience at a political forum in which participants are deep into proposals on health care for the poor, and he’ll change the tone with a question to test the candidates’ resolve to remove big and ugly billboards.

But don’t call Mayer passionate. Don’t call him obsessive. And be damn sure to not call him an anti-billboard activist.

He’s heard that before and considers it “a diss. It is an attempt to discredit what I do.” If he is an anti-billboard activist, he reasons, then Clear Channel and its hired guns are “anti-regulation activists.”

“It’s not so much a passion for an issue, but rather being a junkyard dog against the atrocious things the industry can do,” Mayer says.

Besides, Mayer is a professional.

From 1995 through 2001, Mayer was a hired gun for the city, which has fought an intense and costly battle against outlaw billboards since 1985.

Mayer was paid nearly $93,000, according to his and city records, to construct a catalog of billboards in Tucson and then to document those that were out of compliance. He then worked for the city attorney and city manager by providing technical support during multiple rounds of litigation.

A brief history.

For Mayer, the billboard battle in Tucson was akin to the “person driving down a lonely road and coming upon an accident with the person half dead, and doing what I could do.”

The accident in Tucson was years in the making. Life magazine famously dubbed East Speedway Boulevard the “ugliest street in America,” more than a dozen years before the City Council in 1985 followed other cities by cracking down on billboards. It was an intramural fight of sorts, because Karl Eller, a Tucson High School and University of Arizona grad, is a one of the nation’s billboard barons, having twice built huge sign companies based in Phoenix. He sold Eller Media to Clear Channel in 1997 for $1.5 billion, although he remained on board as the CEO of the Clear Channel subsidiary. He has aggressively and abrasively fought all attempts to restrict the number, size, placement and lighting of billboards.

Another industry titan has Tucson roots; Arte Moreno, a Tucson native, split from Eller and pioneered various multinational sign operations that helped him amass nearly $1 billion. He recently used some of that cash to purchase baseball’s Anaheim Angels.

Attempting to cut existing signs, around 670 in 1985, the city enacted the so-called vacant lot provision that required removal of billboards on lots undergoing development.

For fortification, the council sent the matter to voters in the general election that year, and the referendum passed 2-1, despite the billboard lobby outspending proponents by 20-1. Voters did reject a measure to buy up billboards, however.

Billboard executives were not about to take it lying down. They quickly went to court to defeat or retard the city plans to eliminate the signs.

Despite the city’s aggressive stance, it was hamstrung by huge gaps in city records. Billboards that were, according to drawings in one file, to be on the south side of a lot, were actually on the north side. Details were often blurred about setbacks from streets and sidewalks, and, as a result with some on Speedway, they hang too far into the right of way. Many were erected without proper zoning–check the billboard sign at the Quick Mart on Mission and Silverlake roads. Years of other priorities, including commercial and residential construction booms, forced bureaucrats to focus on matters other than billboard plans.

At the same time, the number of companies controlling the billboards was shrinking. Companies swallowed others, and they were incredibly vigilant in keeping their numbers of signs in the face of a developing city were new buildings meant no billboards.

Mayer says the seminal incident during the fight came during a subcommittee meeting of the city sign code committee, where billboard reps said only a few billboards were out of compliance, for instance, with bottom-mounted lighting that ruins Arizona’s dark skies treasured for astronomy.

“In June 1994, I went looking at every billboard in Tucson,” Mayer says. “There were 50 with bottom-mounted lights. They might not have known or they might not have cared.”

The details and court challenge:

The billboard bar used the new law to block the city’s action on 89 illegal billboards. The city lost in Superior Court. And on Oct. 31, the state Court of Appeals upheld that ruling, saying the city’s zoning powers are derived specifically from the state. The Court of Appeals also said the city was wrong to believe that the 2000 state law set a two-year time limit on enforcement for only newly discovered billboard infractions.

The tally of how many boards existed in 1985 and how many were proper, along with how many remain and how many of them are proper, can be maddeningly elusive. From the city’s and Mayer’s count, 260 of the 670 billboards prior to the 1985 vote have come down–a 39 percent reduction. Mayer insists 215 of the 410 up today are illegal for various reasons. Not surprisingly, the billboard companies disagree.

At issue in the case the Court of Appeals decided in October was the city’s complaint in Superior Court that 122 Eller billboards violated city sign and zoning codes. The number was chopped to 51 after the city amended its complaint.

Dunbar, in her first term on the City Council in northside Ward 3, was in the state House of Representatives in 2000 and voted with that slimmest of margins–one–to approve the bill that put a two-year cap on city billboard enforcement. Dunbar insists any one of her majority colleagues could have been the swing vote.

Her stance on billboards is made clearer by her recent City Council vote to not appeal the Oct. 31 Court of Appeals ruling that upheld the two-year limit on enforcement of all wayward billboards–new and old. This time, she, Ronstadt and Republican Mayor Bob Walkup were short one vote, and the city has taken the matter up with the Arizona Supreme Court.

More on the billboard controversy HERE HERE HERE

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