Clear Channel Outdoor began removing some of its billboards in Tacoma last week. The media giant and the city of Tacoma had been in a legal dispute for years over the status of this type of outdoor advertising. As part of a legal time-out the two sides reached in August, Clear Channel is required to remove some signs that are deemed non-conforming under city regulations.
Under that agreement, Clear Channel had 30 days to give up all of its sign permits and it would apply for demolition permits to remove 20 billboards and do needed repairs to 15 other signs. It was expected that this would take three months for that work to be done. The two parties agreed to dismiss their lawsuits against each other while they continue to negotiate on other aspects of the drawn-out dispute.
Those negotiations will have the two sides come up with a plan to remove signs in one part of town in exchange for other “bulletin-sized” signs to be constructed or removed in other areas. The bulletin-sized billboards are 14 feet tall and 48 feet tall. Tacoma has 22 signs of this size or larger. Only six of these are deemed to be conforming to the existing sign code. The rest are out of compliance for being too large for the particular zone they are in.
City officials plan to obtain feedback from the public on this consolidation plan over the next two years.
The dispute goes back to 1997 when the city passed a law that provided 10 years for the removal of signs that did not fit within new limits for size and location. Clear Channel, which eventually purchased the majority of billboards in Tacoma, sued the city just before the law was to take effect in 2007, arguing it violated its First Amendment rights. A settlement was reached calling for demolition of many signs in exchange for allowing Clear Channel to install a limited number of digital billboards. Public opposition to these video signs caused the city to backtrack from that deal.
The first sign to come down last week was in the Nalley Valley, near the intersection of Cedar and Pine Streets. Others that have been disassembled were downtown on Tacoma Avenue and Jefferson Avenue.
Jim Cullinan, vice president of marketing and communications for Clear Channel Outdoor, confirmed that the removal of signs is underway. “Over the next 60 days we will be removing a number of boards as part of the agreement with the city.”