Public ire lights up over billboards

Mixed Planning Commission decision casts doubt on electronic freeway sign program
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald Correspondent
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Public outcry over a plan to install an electronic billboard in an open space preserve forced the Rocklin Planning Commission to split its decision on the new program. The proposed ordinance change to allow three large LED billboards along Interstate 80 and Highway 65 was approved Tuesday night by the Planning Commission. However, the commissioners, by majority vote, disagreed with two of the sites for the proposed signs. “I’m not opposed to digital billboards, but they have to be put in the right spot,” Commissioner Jeff Shirhall said. The commission did favor the Mercedes-Benz of Rocklin dealership proposal for a 48-foot-high sign outside their frontage along I-80. The sign would include a 10-foot by 24-foot LED advertising space below the 100-square-foot LED logo. “The Mercedes-Benz sign is tied to the dealership. It works for me,” Shirhall said. The dealership would presumably sell advertising to other companies and be expected to carry Amber Alerts and other public announcements, according to the city. At issue is the billboard slated for a 1,200 foot parcel of land at the southern tip of an open space preserve along Highway 65 just north of RC Willey. More than a dozen residents joined the Sierra Club in opposing the Clear Channel billboard that could run LED advertisements every 8 seconds, 24 hours a day, and seven days a week. Rocklin resident Rick Davis presented the commission with a petition signed by over 40 residents against the proposal. “I have no other way to describe it. It’s sky trash,” Davis told the commissioners. “It will forever change the landscape of Rocklin and we’ll never ever see them come down.” Michael Wagner from Clear Channel Outdoor defended the proposal and said local businesses would benefit from low-cost advertising, critical Amber Alert announcements, and an LED technology that uses less energy. Wagner told the commissioners they had studied other locations, including alongside William Jessup University and concluded the city’s open space parcel was the most viable spot. “It is the best site at this time,” Wagner said. The spot is perceived to be in visible range (just over 1,700 feet away) of the Arroyo Vista Townhouses that overlook the open space along Lonetree Boulevard In order to place the 1,200 foot sign in that area, the property would have to be partially rezoned to commercial. In order to approve the change, the city would be forced to change its general plan. Kurt Griesener, a resident of the Arroyo Vista Townhouses, was appalled by the sign location as well as the lack of attention to perceived light pollution that would be created by the sign. He said the developer of his townhouse complex had required residents to place shields over exterior lights to reduce light pollution. “It’s not fair,” Griesener said. Griesener said he’s frustrated that city parks are required to shut their lights off at 10 p.m. to respect residents, but the proposed sign will run all night. “I love living here, but I don’t think this is good for Rocklin,” Griesener said. Jessica Wuester said her townhouse faces the spot for the proposed sign. “In terms of resale, how am I supposed resell my house? We were told it was protected wetlands all around our house.” Wuester said. “It’s insane to me.” Marilyn Jasper, who represented the Sierra Club, took issue with a lack of an Environmental Impact Study on the new billboard program. Wagner countered that the Mitigated Negative Declaration is sufficient. Some of the commissioners agreed. Jasper said giving up some of the open space for the sign sets a bad precedent. “Open space is not something to pick away at,” Jasper said. “I thought it was there in perpetuity.” Many of the commissioners agreed, thus forcing the split decision. They were also concerned another site location near the Highway 65 off-ramp to Stanford Ranch Road would create a safety hazard. Rocklin resident and retired California Highway Patrol Officer Gordon Havens agreed. “I’ve investigated an awful lot of serious accidents involving distraction and inattention of drivers,” Havens said. “That’s what these signs are designed to do — attract your attention and read them. It’s not a good thing.” Wagner challenged the city to present any traffic studies that show the signs are a hazard, adding his company will mount a defense. “There are no reports of traffic issues,” Wagner said. The ordinance change will now go before the City Council along with the billboard locations that were turned down. The final decision could be difficult as the city is operating in a deficit and would gain nearly $150,000 in new revenue annually if they used the open space site for a billboard.