City Manager T.C. Broadnax made a prudent decision to suspend enforcement of the city’s revised billboard law until the end of the year.
Clear Channel, the media giant that dominates the billboard industry, had a March 1 deadline to remove about 190 traditional billboards deemed to be non-conforming under a revised code that Tacoma City Council adopted last August.
The council and the company announced a settlement in 2010 in which Clear Channel would be allowed to install a smaller number of digital billboards in exchange for removing a much larger number of the traditional signs around the city. However, last year the council shifted direction, spurred on by countless hours of testimony from citizens on the topic of digital billboards, with the majority of it in strong opposition.
Anyone who has followed the situation knows Clear Channel has deep pockets. In addition to its extensive billboard holdings, it is among America’s major radio station owners. Clear Channel has many more resources at its disposal than the city of Tacoma.
In court documents, Clear Channel claims the city would owe it $75 million in compensation for removing the billboards deemed non-conforming. Tacoma did not have that sort of money before last August and it certainly does not now, as it struggles to fill a budget gap that council members were not aware existed at the time.
While it is a good thing for the council to pay attention to public sentiment, that does not necessarily mean the council should always allow such feedback to direct the course of city government. The people lining up at meetings to denounce billboards or posting their thoughts on the topic are not the ones who will ultimately be held accountable if the city gets hammered financially by a major corporation. Council members will be.
The council should stick with the agreement it reached with Clear Channel in 2010.