Thursday, September 3, 2015

IHPC Delays Digital Billboard Decision

I just posted this entry on the IBJ's Indiana Forefront.  I would only add - many thanks to Councillors Joe Simpson and Zach Adamson for supporting the broader community interest by asking that the digital billboard variance be delayed until after the sign regulations are reviewed in a vigorous, transparent, and public process. ---

Last night, as reported by Hayleigh Colombo in the IBJ, the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission continued to October 7, both the building design and the digital billboard variance proposed for Mass. Ave.
I was in the audience, waiting to speak to the digital billboard variance on behalf of the Marion County Alliance of Neighborhood Associations.
From November to June, 59 organizations joined forces to move the digital billboard debate from behind closed doors to the appropriate public venue – the upcoming Department of Metropolitan Development review of the entire sign ordinance.  After all the meetings and all the debate, the Council agreed.
The proposed ‘digital canvas’ envisioned for the building that would replace the Mass Ave fire station needs a variance expressly because it would be a digital billboard.  They propose posting ‘sponsors’ information either on 20% of the space or 20% of the time.  Motion and sound would be allowed.
A continuance was proposed by two Councillors – Joe Simpson, whose current district includes the site, and Zach Adamson, who is running for reelection to the new district boundaries that will include this site – via letter to the IHPC.  Initially the Commission was moving toward a continuance until after the Council passes the new sign ordinance, presumably some time next year.  Then the developer and his representative asked for the October 7 date so they could discuss it with the two Councillors.
Continuing this variance request is wise for a couple of reasons.  The broad community deserves its hard fought and hard won vigorous public process that would decide if digital billboards are right for Indianapolis.  If lifting the ban was found in the community’s best interest, then issues such as how to measure and regulate light levels, size, motion, sound, appropriate locations, interactivity with the driving public, and other safety issues would be discussed and appropriate parameters would be set.
If the Mass. Ave. digital billboard variance comes first, it could create a precedent and set a standard that became the tail that wagged the dog.  That, undoubtedly, was why John Kisiel, Vice President of Clear Channel, was in the audience for 5 hours last night.  Kisiel has stated that he was assigned to Indianapolis by Clear Channel to open Indy up to digital billboards.
Let’s face it, the billboard industry is a litigious group.  They have shown they will take cities to court if they can find any chink in the rules or application of the rules.  Indy’s billboard ban has successfully weathered their attempts to gain variances and prevailed in the subsequent lawsuits.  Granting this digital billboard variance would demonstrate uneven application of the ban.  Given these are the waning months for the Ballard administration, who know whether the variance would be challenged.  As they did in other cities, the biggest mess being in Los Angeles, this would give the billboard industry just the opening they need to seek unfettered and unregulated access to Indy’s streetscapes.
Some will say this is only relevant to the Mass. Ave. neighborhoods.  But, given the dynamics at play in the digital billboard arena, the digital billboard variance is about all of our neighborhoods.

City Loses No Time Asking for Bids On Electric Fleet

Today's paper reports that just yesterday, Mayor Ballard and Council President Lewis signed an agreement over the new electric car fleet.  The 212 electric cars already delivered by Vision Fleet would continue to be subject to maintenance through Vision Fleet, but the remaining 213 would be put out for public bid.

Yesterday afternoon, the Purchasing Division put out RFP14-DPW-598
Four (4) Year Term Contract to provide an Electric Vehicle Program to the Consolidated City of Indianapolis - Marion County, through the Indianapolis Department of Public Works, Fleet Services Division
They wasted no time.

I have to ask, though, where is the public discussion on how many electric cars we should have, what attributes those cars should have and to whom they should be assigned?

Most certainly, the $45,000 lifetime cost per car was outrageous, and I am quite glad that the Council took a hard stance against the deal, if for that reason only.   Equally outrageous was the way the Mayor's office yet again circumvented the proper procedures - whether simply to avoid scrutiny by the Council and the public or to assure the award went to the favored company, or both.  Both of these have been stopped in their tracks, which is half a loaf.

Council discussions over filing the lawsuit against the Mayor have divulged other issues including problems with charging the cars overnight in the homes of those assigned the cars and lack of truck space for heavy arms that police officers want to carry.  The last one I still don't get - the cars were supposed to be assigned to administrators who don't really need a peppy car to get them to the scene.  So, whether more than this category of officers got the electric cars or these administrators just want to carry assault rifles, I don't know.

For me, it is not just about the Mayor's office circumventing proper procedures, and probably the law, its about them doing it so often that Vision Fleet has simply become a poster child for "The Ballard Way".  It is shocking to see how Ballard's time in office has devolved from him being a champion of transparency to being a manager of insider deals kept from the light of day, surreptitiously funded with moneys not appropriated for the purpose, and protected by a 'just say no' attitude to releasing public documents.

In any case, if you are interested in leasing the City 213 electric cars and taking care of them for 4 years, get your proposal in by October 2.