Pat Andrews at “Had Enough Indy?” and Gary Welsh at “Advance Indiana”® have done their usual excellent jobs of research on another topic of local concern. They have blogged about an ordinance being considered by the City-County Council that would ease restrictions on construction of digital billboards in Marion County. Others, particularly on Advance Indiana®, have posted comments about the proposal and the process by which it has snaked its way behind the scenes.
Worst aspect of the ordinance: money.
The worst part of the ordinance is described by Pat Andrews:
“The proposed ordinance, drafted by lobbyists for the billboard industry, requires that in year three of the law, the Council must decide if the law should continue to allow conversions into the future or not. Once the third year is over, the taxpayers would be on the hook to pay the future value of conversions to each billboard company, should the Council or the Mayor or the public decide to change the law back. Say a billboard company has 1000 signs in Marion County (as at least one company does). In year one they can convert 6, year two another 6, and in each year thereafter, they can convert 2 to digital. That gives this billboard company guaranteed conversions for nearly 500 years. The future value would be hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in revenue for each conversion. Quick math isn’t even necessary to calculate the payoff could be catastrophic to the taxpayers.”
In other words, the billboard companies would be paid what amount to liquidated damages for a “loss” they never actually suffered. Their conventional billboards were built. The billboard companies put the billboards up without any guarantee—unless such a guarantee was made in the back rooms of an upscale downtown private club—the billboards one day could go “electric.” Yet, under the proposed ordinance, if the voters, after three years, decide the electric billboards suck, and vote out of office the Councilors who enacted this measure, the billboard companies get paid as though they suffered losses from investments made on a premise that is not valid. people
Other reasons people might want to ban electronic or digital billboards.
There are a lot of reasons some people believe these signs are bad.
Aesthetics of the signs suck. Of course, the same could be said for billboards in general. If one has driven through Vermont, one is struck, as one crosses the State line, by the absence of billboards. There are none. Even near exits from Interstates, there are no billboards to alert drivers they can enjoy an Egg McWhopper in one mile. The effect is: people who travel in Vermont are struck by the beauty of the countryside. If the City-County Council wants to ban all billboards, I will vote for the candidates on my ballot, who support such a measure.
The signs emit bright light and do so intermittently—the images change. People who live near the signs are faced with trying to sleep as bright lights that flicker throughout the night nearby. If the signs are such a great idea, install them a few hundred feet from upscale housing, and see how long the signs last there. Wait—I forgot, upscale developments largely are enough of a distance from heavily-traveled roadways and those residents do not have to deal with such tawdry, mundane facets of life.
Some have claimed driver distraction, from the signs, causes more vehicular collisions and, thus, injuries and death. A study from Virginia Tech found that eighty percent (80%) of collisions occur within three (3) seconds of a driver’s distraction by something. People who text and drive would have a new diversion—what group is playing at Hoosier Downs this week? Then again, Virginia Tech produced another study that indicated there was no significant—as in statistically significant ergo percentage sufficient to establish validity—in collision rates as a result of electronic billboards to say electronic billboards pose a threat to public safety. A study of electronic billboards in the Cleveland area reach a similar conclusion. On the other hand, studies in Sweden and Israel suggest these types of billboards cause an increase in collisions and, thus, injuries and deaths. I have not read the methodology of any of these studies.
Philosophical objection to digital billboards and to this ordinance.
One person who posted on Gary Welsh’s website, apparently Carlos Lam from his online signature and the manner in which Gary Welsh addressed his comment, wrote: “A practical question, Gary: What’s the philosophical objection to digital billboards? If the billboard doesn’t injure me, my property, or my wallet, I’m not sure that local govt should have a say.” (Mr. Lam took umbrage with a commenter who went by the handle “Anonymous.” I agree with Mr. Lam that someone should sign her or his name to a comment. I would point out, however, that on some websites it is confusing to sign on as anything but “Anonymous.”)
I would respond to Mr. Lam’s question in two ways.
As to the specifics posed by Mr. Lam: If nothing else, the financial impact of this ordinance to the average taxpayer could be significant, as previously described. As to injury to Mr. Lam—in what sense does he mean “injury.” People should examine the studies and determine themselves whether the billboards pose a threat to safety. What about aesthetics? Electronic billboards are ugly. They are part of the public scenery. If the local government can place restrictions on signage owned by large corporations from out of State, then aesthetics are as good of a reason as any to say “no” to them, across the board.
As to the general philosophical principle of rather limited self-interest—if the signs harm others (such as those people who live nearby them and whose homes were located in that place before the signs go up, and whose lives are disrupted by lights blinking 24/7), and those people have no choice but to stay in their homes where they are while the shareholders of the corporations that erected the signs reap profits from away from that site and probably out of the State, then people have a right to oppose the signs.
The manner in which the ordinance has been advanced.
Also troublesome is the way in which a corporate lobbying effort has written legislation and handed it off to members of YOUR City-County Council.
To Councilor Jeff Miller’s credit, he has voiced opposition to the measure.
Coverage of local issues absent from other media.
This issue is another example of the ways in which coverage of local news no longer is important to the so-called mainstream media. The local TV stations and what once was a daily newspaper that gave local items coverage that attempted objectivity have been absent from this matter. We have to rely upon bloggers, such as Pat Andrews and Gary Welsh and others, who put in the time and effort to alert us to what transpires.
If I was not clear, let me say: electronic (or digital or whatever one calls them) billboards suck, but the ordinance now advanced in the City-County Council sucks even worse, then blows chunks.