79.9 F
San Fernando
Sunday, Jul 14, 2024

Outdoor Firms Stand Up Against Billboard Take-Down

The Santa Clarita City Council has approved a plan to remove 118 billboards along the Metrolink rail line on land controlled by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. One problem: Neither the city nor the authority, better known as Metro, contacted the companies that own the billboards. And, as it might be expected, they staunchly oppose the idea. The proposal calls for Metro to cancel its leases for billboards held by three companies: CBS Outdoor, Clear Channel Outdoor Inc. and Edwards Outdoor Advertising. In exchange, Metro will permit three digital billboards along the Golden State (5) and Antelope Valley (14) freeways. The billboard removal is part of a longstanding beautification plan for the city that includes landscaping of median strips on major roads and development of city signage. Tom Cole, the city’s director of community development, noted that although the billboards are along the railroad, the tracks pass through the middle of town and many of the signs are visible from nearby streets. “The railroad ride-ways are within the confines of the center of the city,” Cole said. “The main emphasis for us is beautification. That has been an objective of the council, the city and residents.” However, there are complications with the plan, including questions of whether the three companies will actually get control of the proposed replacement billboards. Another issue is small business owners in Santa Clarita who oppose the deal, saying the nearby billboards are a valuable marketing tool. The California State Outdoor Advertising Association, a Sacramento billboard company trade group, is leading the opposition to the plan. Vanessa Rodriguez, spokeswoman for the association, said the three companies are united against the proposal. She noted that under the deal, Metro would remove the billboards and supporting structures with no compensation to the boards’ owners. “None of the three had been consulted when this was announced,” she said. “The city may tell you there was ample public outreach, but it wasn’t the right kind. None of the companies were contacted.” Local business owner Kurt Bohmer, who has advertised on the Metrolink billboards for about 30 years, said the rail line billboards have been highly effective at attracting local customers. He pointed out that two of the three new billboards would be on the route to the Antelope Valley. While the company has an office in Palmdale, the digital freeway boards will miss his core customer base in Santa Clarita. And he feels it makes his business seem less local and personal on a freeway sign rather than a fixed billboard on the street. “Beautification and stomping on business are two different things,” said Bohmer, owner of Kurt Bohmer’s Plumbing & Drain Service in Canyon Country. “I feel it’s a real kick in the teeth for small businesses. The city puts its advertising at every intersection, on every billboard possible. It’s not fair.” Larger plans A website launched by the city to explain its proposal states that billboards are “a high priority for eradication.” According to the site, Santa Clarita in the past has tried to buy the billboards to tear them down, but that proved too expensive. Then Metro approached the city with the current idea as part of a broader plan to remove billboards along all of its rail tracks. The Santa Clarita proposal would remove all the billboards in the Soledad Canyon Road and Railroad Avenue corridors, which pass through the center of Santa Clarita and Newhall. Roger Moliere, director of real estate at Metro, said that leases with the billboard companies allow Metro to terminate the agreements in as little as 24 hours. Once that is done, the process would begin to select a company to build each of the three digital boards. They will be double-sided, so travelers in both directions on the freeway can see them. Both the city and Metro will get a share of the revenue, Moliere added. “The city gets rid of unsightly billboards, the city will share in the revenue and the money Metro makes will be put back in to improvements for the transportation corridor,” he said. Julie Edwards Sanchez, president of Edwards Outdoor, headquartered in Newhall, said that if the proposal gets implemented in its present form, she will lose about half her billboard inventory. In addition, she says that all her customers with one possible exception won’t advertise on the new digital billboards. “A lot tell me that they can’t afford it,” she said. “My boards are very reasonable, even compared to newspaper ads. Quite honestly, the only ones who can afford a large digital billboard on a major freeway are Toyota and McDonald’s – the big national advertisers that have millions of dollars.” She added that many of her billboards only work in a specific location – “turn left here” type signs – and a digital billboard on the freeway is no substitute. Also, her advertisers want to reach people in Santa Clarita, not “people driving up the 5 freeway for a weekend in Las Vegas,” she said. Future signs According to BluelineMedia.com, a rental site for billboards, a four-week contract for a large traditional billboard costs between $1,500 and $30,000, depending on the traffic at the location. With digital billboards, advertisers buy time in 8-second increments, sharing the billboard with other advertisers in a 64-second continuous loop. A four-week contract for 8 seconds is $3,500 to $25,000, again depending on traffic. Edwards estimates the costs for a large billboard on the freeways would run $8,000 to $12,000, far more than a traditional board along the train tracks. Economics aside, Bohmer, the plumber, believes static billboards better convey his company’s image of local and personal service. His company’s logo features the Magic Mountain Sky Tower to emphasize the local connection. “Putting it on the freeway takes that personal service aspect away,” he said. Bohmer isn’t alone in supporting fixed billboards. In a letter to the Santa Clarita City Council, David Wurts, owner of Burger King franchisee W.D. Restaurant Inc., said he and others depend on billboards to direct customers to specific locations. “The billboard proposal will eliminate an affordable and much-needed resource for small businesses to advertise their companies and services,” he wrote. The Council approved the proposal on Feb. 25. Cole said it will return, with any tweaks, for a final vote on March 11, followed by a 35-day period to settle any litigation. After that, Metro could tear down the billboards. Currently, there is no pending litigation. Cole, with the city, said that because Edwards is a local company, the city is talking with her to reach an agreement, while Metro is dealing with the two national billboard companies. Both CBS, based in New York, and Clear Channel, based in San Antonio, declined to comment for this story. “I’m in discussions with the city,” acknowledged Edwards, the billboard company president. “But nothing is finalized yet.” Meanwhile, if the proposal does move forward, Rodriguez said the billboard association wants to make sure the city has “an open and transparent bidding process.” Moliere, from Metro, would not discuss the bidding process, noting the proposal has yet to be approved by the Council. “We are going to work with the billboard companies,” he said. “It will work like in the normal marketplace.”

Joel Russel
Joel Russel
Joel Russell joined the Los Angeles Business Journal in 2006 as a reporter. He transferred to sister publication San Fernando Valley Business Journal in 2012 as managing editor. Since he assumed the position of editor in 2015, the Business Journal has been recognized four times as the best small-circulation tabloid business publication in the country by the Alliance of Area Business Publishers. Previously, he worked as senior editor at Hispanic Business magazine and editor of Business Mexico.

Featured Articles

Related Articles