"VEGETATION CONTROL" CREATES UPROAR IN FLORIDA
Billboards that Clear Channel is trying to protect.
~ Photos courtesy Ed Sackett, Orlando Sentinel ~
Clear Channel Outdoor says it can't see the billboards through the trees in Osceola County, Florida, and thus it'd like to get rid of the trees. Or more appropriately, it'd like the state (a.k.a. the taxpayers - yes the same ones who paid to have the trees put up) to get rid of the trees.
In 2001 the county planted several dozen tall palm trees and a smaller number of crape myrtle trees in an effort to spruce up a stretch of West U.S. Highway 192. The beautification project was hailed by residents and area businesses as a giant improvement to a stretch of road otherwise cluttered with tacky T-shirt shops, time-share kiosks and bargain hotels.
Half a decade after their planting, Clear Channel says the trees are blocking views of their billboards and should never have been planted. Since 1996, the Florida DOT has had a rule requiring a 500-foot viewing zone in front of billboards where the posted speed limit was more than 35 mph. A bill signed into law by the Florida legislature in June sharpened the rule and gave it teeth. The law said anyone who blocked a billboard as part of a beautification effort on a public road had 90 days to remove the trees or pay the value of the sign - or risk a lawsuit and fines. It's no surprise who was behind this latest change to the law - the billboard industry and the legislators whose pockets it lines with campaign contributions.
This recent effort by Clear Channel to enforce these regulations and have the trees chopped down has garnered quite a bit of media coverage. The response has been overwhelmingly pro-beautification, with the Orlando Sentinel writing this editorial which questions the sensibility of removing the trees. In addition, the paper has published numerous letters-to-the-editor from citizens who support the county's beautification efforts and oppose efforts to remove the trees. Furthermore, Clear Channel's Orlando office has been inundated with what they admit are "angry emails and voice messages" from area residents.
The public pressure appears to have made an impact - to a certain degree. Clear Channel has caved on their earlier demand that all the trees be cut down. They agreed to allow the tall palm trees and most of the Washingtonian palms, loquats, oaks, viburnums and oleander hedges to remain but maintained that the crape myrtle trees must come down. The Florida DOT began removing the crape myrtles last week but there was this good news that about half of them would be adopted by concerned citizens and replanted elsewhere.
While this would appear to be the end of the issue for now, supporters of scenic integrity can never rest when it comes to dealing with these gargantuan outdoor advertising companies. As Bill Jonson, Scenic America board member and chairman of Citizens For a Scenic Florida said, "Clear Channel just has this, oh - it's like a jihad against these trees."
UPDATE ON THE HIGHWAY BEAUTIFICATION ACT
If you've read the last couple issues of Scenic Overlook, you know that the outdoor advertising industry is, for the second time this year, attempting to weaken a key provision of the Highway Beautification Act by sneaking language into the Senate's version of the Energy and Water Appropriation bill. The proposed change would allow states to opt out of a key provision of the HBA that says that “nonconforming” billboards in so-called “commercial and industrial areas” may not rebuilt if they are destroyed by natural disasters. Click here for more background on the issue.
Scenic America is currently working with our allies on Capitol Hill to fight this proposed change. There is a "Dear Colleague" letter circulating through the halls of Congress which will put pressure on the conference committee to strip this provision from the bill. We have also drafted, along with numerous other partner organizations, a letter to members of Congress making them aware of this sneaky billboard provision and of our intense opposition to it.
Most importantly, we have created an online campaign so that our supporters can easily contact their members of Congress to voice their outrage over this proposed change in the HBA. By clicking the link below you'll be able to quickly and easily email your Senators and Representative to let them know you want this language removed from the final bill.
Click here to help save the Highway Beautification Act
We're anticipating that the Senate will vote on this bill when they return to Washington after the November 7th elections. There's still plenty of time to influence your members of Congress on this issue. We urge you to use our fact sheets and media pointers, which you'll find through the link above, to help you write a letter-to-the-editor of your local paper. These letters are one of the most highly read parts of the paper and will help sway opinion in your locality. Keep an eye out for more information about this assault on the HBA in the coming weeks.
RHODE ISLAND DEBATES MAJOR CHANGES TO ITS BILLBOARD LAWS
Outside of those states that have banned billboards altogether, Rhode Island is known to have some of the strongest billboard-control laws in the nation. In 1990 the state enacted a law prohibiting construction of new billboards.
Recently, the state's Department of Transportation proposed changes to its regulations governing outdoor advertising that will permit the replacement of standard billboards with electronic displays using a variety of new technologies.
Lawyer and Scenic America board member Bill Brinton traveled to Rhode Island to testify at a hearing on the proposed changes. Brinton said the new billboards pose a safety threat because they're more distracting than conventional billboards. He said the outdoor advertising industry is trying to destroy state billboard laws and “allow billboards to go up where they’ve never gone up before." He also warned that if Rhode Island officials don’t get the regulations right, they could suffer a court ruling taking away the state’s ability to regulate billboards entirely.
The billboard industry was represented at the hearing by lawyers claiming, not surprisingly, that the new regulations would be too restrictive and made their usual outlandish claims that billboards are good for communities. Most of the testimony at the hearing, however, was critical of billboards and of the outdoor advertising industry. Several people spoke out about the positive effect of reduced billboard blight on Rhode Island's tourism industry.
Scenic America believes the Rhode Island DOT should work to strengthen the 1990 billboard law which sought to prevent the “unreasonable distraction of operators of motor vehicles,” and to “preserve and enhance the natural scenic beauty or aesthetic features of the highways and adjacent areas." Allowing LED and video billboards on Rhode Island's roadways would accomplish the polar opposite of those objectives.
Scenic America President Kevin Fry drafted formal comments on the proposed changes which were delivered to John J. Igliozzi, senior legal counsel for the Rhode Island Department of Transportation. To read the full text of Scenic America's comments click here, or for a downloadable PDF version click here. Action on the proposed changes is expected within 60 days, so stay tuned for updates.
AFFILIATE UPDATE: GOOD NEWS FROM SCENIC ALABAMA
Good news from Alabama: The city of Trussville, a fast-growing small town near Birmingham, adopted a new sign ordinance on Oct. 10 that prohibits billboards. Early drafts of their ordinance would have permitted billboards along interstates (where there are some already). Scenic Alabama representatives met with city leaders and assisted with information they could use to change the final version. Trussville is seeing tremendous residential and commercial growth, and the sign ordinance was seen as a way to keep the community attractive and appealing for citizens and businesses.
SCENIC SCRAPBOOK: 'IF ONLY IT WERE THAT EASY!'
The photo on the right was snapped recently by Scenic America board member Bill Brinton.
The owner of this billboard is reminding potential advertisers that the public can not successfully avoid outdoor advertising, like we do so many other forms of advertising. Whether it's skipping channels to avoid commercials on radio or television or throwing out junk mail or magazine inserts, people prefer to avoid unwanted advertising whenever possible. However when you're out in public and there's a giant billboard occupying a large part of your field of vision, there's not much you can do to avoid it. The outdoor advertising industry knows this, and they use it as their main selling point to advertisers. It's up to us to take a stand and demand that our visual environments not be surrendered to the whims of the powerful and callous outdoor advertising industry. Join Scenic America in taking a stand today.
With Halloween and the fall foliage season upon us, remember to take your digital camera out with you on your scenic fall drives, and send us your pictures of our scenic America this time of year!