City Staff Explores Opportunities In Modernizing Billboard Regulations

120 Billboards On List For Amortization

by Tiffany Rider, Staff Writer

In an effort to reduce the number of neighborhood billboards and reduce blight in Long Beach, city staff is working to modernize the city’s existing regulations of the outdoor advertisements.

After a moratorium on updating city billboard regulations was enacted in December 2009 and extended in 2010 through this year, the Long Beach City Council can no longer defer the item and must update the policy by December 14. The focus of the updates, according to City Planning Administrator Derek Burnham, is to consider that more heavily traveled corridors are more appropriate areas for billboards than residential zones.

Current regulations only allow billboards in commercial and industrial zones, with restrictions. Long Beach Development Services Department Director Amy Bodek told the city council at its June 21 meeting that, “There are about 350 billboards in the city, most of which could not be developed today under our current regulations . . . They were built and installed when our regulations were completely different.”

Staff has put together a map that shows the locations of 120 residentially zoned billboards throughout the city eligible for amortization notice under state law. According to Burnham, the amortization process is done over a seven-year period.

“First and foremost, we wanted to try to reduce the number of billboards in this city, particularly in residential areas where I think one could argue they don’t belong there,” Burnham said. The Long Beach Redevelopment Agency has been aggressive to acquire billboards through acquisition of property to get them out of the inventory and also terminated billboard leases through various means, according to Bodek.

The billboard companies and property owners responsible for the 120 residentially zoned billboards were notified through certified mail by the city, where contact information was available, Burnham said.

Some billboard companies and property owners are challenging some of the billboards slated for amortization with the concern of losing potential revenues, while others are “eager to get rid of the billboard and are very supportive to amortize,” Burnham said. The Business Journal contacted the Los Angeles Clear Channel Outdoor offices for comment on the amortization process but did not receive a response by press time.

In a June 21 vote, the council directed City Manager Pat West to present updated billboard regulations to the planning commission that includes a cap-and-trade policy. This policy, as proposed, would exchange billboards that cause blight and are in neighborhoods for fewer modern electronic billboards.

“We would potentially allow the construction of a new billboard or the conversion of an existing static billboard into an electronic billboard in exchange for taking billboards out of a less desirable location,” according to Burnham. “And we’re evaluating the takedown ratio.”

Burnham said staff is determining an effective balance for the cap-and-trade policy based on other jurisdictions that have used this form of regulation successfully, and continues to monitor the processes taken on billboards in the cities of Los Angeles and Oakland as models. “If the takedown ratio is too high we won’t get any billboards taken down,” he said. “If it’s too low, we may allow too many of the electronic billboards or new static billboards.”

Staff has also been directed to explore possible revenue generating opportunities for hosting billboards on city property, the use of mobile billboards and issuing a conditional use permit where appropriate to provide additional discretional approval of the advertisements. An ordinance is being developed for presentation to council and for community review at a later date.

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