Wednesday, November 19, 2014
This was just published on the Indiana Forefront blog. Availability to Had Enough Indy is still handled like a porn site on the City Hall internet.
Now that the proposed digital billboard ordinance has been voted out of Council committee, it might be a good time to review the problems with the proposal.
1) 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 potential 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 would be catastrophic to the taxpayers.
2) The proposal grants a monopoly to those billboard companies now operating in Marion County. Only these 3 or 4 companies with existing billboards may convert them to digital. Those billboard companies who are not so qualified, will surely sue the City. It won't be Lamar or Clear Channel that pick up the litigation costs. No, the taxpayers of Indianapolis will.
3) Digital signs can be bigger that those they replace. The proposal says that any sign face of more than 300 square feet can be replaced by a digital billboard face of 672 square feet. There are three legally allowed configurations that are more than 300 square feet - a 378, a 600, and a 672.
4) The size of a digital billboard along a freeway can be more than twice the size now allowed. The current billboards along freeways are 300 square feet, compared to the 672 square feet that would be allowed for digital faces.
5) There is no requirement that the pole for an existing billboard be taken down when the sign face is removed as part of a swap for a digital billboard. It is possible that this is required elsewhere in the City's laws, but it certainly is not specified in the proposed ordinance.
6) If a billboard was removed as part of the conversion, another company (perhaps even the same company) could apply for a new billboard permit at that exact location. As long as the location met the criteria for regular billboard sizes and distances, a permit would have to be granted. This would severely impact any expectation for an actual reduction in the number of billboards in the County.
7) By any lucid individual, a digital billboard would qualify as an Electronic Variable Message Sign. But, since the proposed ordinances declares that not to be true, it would not be regulated as an EVMS. Currently EVM signs must be 600 feet or more from homes. The proposal would allow a digital billboard to be 500 feet from a home - and it is far brighter than the much smaller EVM signs.
8) Current law requires billboards to be separated by at least 1000 feet on city streets and no more than 2 per mile along freeways. Digital faces need only be 500 feet apart.
9) The proposed ordinance would allow up to a 2 second gap between ads. Studies have shown that gaps between ads are a hazard to driving, drawing longer gazes off the road and traffic. Two seconds is the distraction threshold accepted by the scientific community as hazardous driving conditions that lead to accidents and near accidents.
10) There is language in the proposed ordinance that claims that digital billboards are not intermittently lit, despite what lucid individuals might actually think. It is there not only to get around our local EVMS laws, but also to circumvent the 1971 agreement between the State of Indiana and the US Federal Highway Administration on the control of outdoor advertising along freeways. In 2007, FHWA issued a memorandum that said digital billboards did not violate the intermittent lighting ban. That memorandum is being litigated in the Courts. If, as some expect, the memorandum is overturned, it would leave Indianapolis in an unenviable legal position - rescind the digital billboard ordinance and pay the future value of thousands of conversions -- or stand in violation of Federal Law for any digital faces erected along freeways in Marion County and face losing federal highway dollars. Either way it would be entirely too expensive for the taxpayer.
This proposed digital billboard ordinance is not only an affront to a vigorous public process, it is bad law for Indianapolis.