I wanted to show an example of a City that put its community ahead of the billboard industry. St. Petersburg, FL, and the 2012 deal they struck on digital billboards is the one example I'd like to point to today. Gary Welsh, over at Advance Indiana, went through it's deal briefly a few weeks back, but I want to compare in some detail, their billboard deal with what is being proposed for Indianapolis.
Prop 250, written by the billboard industry and its lobbyists, will be back on the table at the January 26, Metropolitan and Economic Development committee of the City-County Council.
That proposal, unlike the St. Pete deal, has not only been written by the very industry the ordinance would regulate, it has not included any investigation of best practices nor any analysis from our professional planners in the Department of Metropolitan Development. It's one thing to have a seat at the table, it is quite another to have them all.
The only world view the Councillors have heard for three years is that of the billboard industry - their paid for 'science', their input on what is important for regulation, and their closed door rebuttals of points made late in the debate by the Community.
So, lets take a few minutes to compare what a vigorous public process produced, with what has happened here in Indianapolis.
Swapout Ratio and Total Number of Digital BillboardsSt. Pete saw 83 static billboards come down, and a conversion of 6 others to digital faces, for a ratio of 89 to 6 or over 14:1.
Prop 250 would have an equal square footage of static face come down and a conversion of one static face for a digital face, for a ratio of 2:1. The total number of digital billboards that can go up are 'limited' to 75 in the first three years, with no more than 4 per year until all static billboards are converted or taken down - for 500-750 digital billboards total.
Digital Billboard SpacingSt. Pete -- All digital billboards must be spaced so that a driver cannot read more than one face at a time, or a minimum distance of 2500 feet in any case.
Prop 250 -- Digital billboards may be separated by no less than 500 feet.
Ad DisplaySt. Pete -- Each ad must be shown for a minimum of 10 seconds, there can be no sequential ads (ala the old Burma Shave ads), and there must be an instantaneous change between ads.
Prop 250 -- Each ad must be shown for at least 8 seconds, there is no ban on sequential ads (which are known to distract drivers more than other ad types), and there may be up to a 2 second delay between ads (also known to cause driver distraction).
Regulation of Light LevelsSt. Pete -- They adopted the best practice of measuring and regulating the amount of emitted light, rather than reflected light. The equipment is pricier, but it allows the light emitted to be regulated so that it appears to be as lit as a static billboard, but no more. Using equipment and standards for reflected light, does not allow such tuning of the appearance of digital billboards. The billboard companies must pay for the equipment and pay for the training of code enforcement officers in the proper use of the equipment.
Prop 250 -- Relies on reflected light and the lighting standards generated by the billboard industry. There is no requirement that the billboard companies pay for the equipment and training.
Order of Removal and ConversionSt. Pete -- All static billboards used as swapped boards, must be removed before any permit is issued for any digital conversion.
Prop 250 -- The static billboard to be removed as part of the swap must be removed within 30 days of the issuance of the conversion permit. A letter stating it has been removed must be filed. There is no requirement that the removal be verified by Code Enforcement.
Removal of Structures and Re-permitting of Swapped LocationsSt. Pete -- All structures must be removed along with the faces of static billboards counted as a swap. There is a prohibition on reconstructing any sign removed, unless the ordinance is invalidated in Court, and then reconstruction must abide by the time formula noted below in "Legal Challenges to Law" section.
Prop 250 - There is no requirement that the pole be removed when a static face is removed as part of a swap. There is no prohibition on the reissuance of a sign permit for any location where a static sign was removed as part of a swap.
Twenty Year Limitation on Digital BillboardsSt. Pete -- After 20 years, all digital faces must be removed and converted back to static faces.
Prop 250 -- Any digital face may remain forever, and is allowed morph into any new technology that comes forward to replace the current LED standard without further public input, debate, or permits.
City-sponsored AdsSt. Pete -- The City is entitled to 1 ad slot per rotation during 12 separate 10-day periods per year to provide ads for non-profits and civic associations.
Prop 250 - There is no provision for free ad space to the City.
Future Changes to the LawSt. Pete -- If the laws change in the future, driven by new safety standards, the digital billboards will NOT be grandfathered into the old standards and will be required to meet the terms of the new law.
Prop 250 -- There is no provision for changes to local, state or federal laws and standards generated in the future due to a better understanding of safety issues.
Legal Challenges to the LawSt. Pete -- Should legal challenges to the 2012 St. Pete law be successful in Court, there will be a limit on how many static billboard may, by right, be reconstructed. If the Court overturns the law within 5 years, only half the original static billboards may be re-commissioned. If it takes action between years 5 and 10, only one quarter of the original billboards can come back. And if the Court acts after 10 years, then no static billboards can come back.
Prop 250 -- There is no provision for what happens if Court action overturns the proposed Ordinance.
PenaltiesSt. Pete -- Fines for violating the ordinance - $1000 per day for the first violation, $2500 per day for the second, and $5000 per day for the 3rd and any subsequent violation.
Prop 250 -- Does not change the current law, which appears to be $50 for the first violation in a 12-month period and $100 for the second and any subsequent violation.
There was not a single item contained in Indy's Prop 250 that was superior to the ordinance passed by St. Petersburg in 2012. That probably is because the process used was behind closed doors and beyond the reach of any opinions other than those of the billboard industry.
Our community deserves a transparent and vigorous public process for any of our laws, especially one so important to the aesthetics of our City and the safety of our driving public.
Prop 250 should be killed off as it is not repairable and does not have any resemblance to good public policy for Indianapolis.
references: St. Pete zoning professionals' presentation to the City Council, Scenic St. Pete report on specifics passed into law, and City Council notes on the lease agreement.