Eden area residents continue to say no to new electronic billboard

SAN LORENZO, Calif. — Residents in the Eden area are continuing to push back against a proposal to construct a new electronic billboard on Langton Way in exchange for dismantling 10 existing billboards.

The Eden Area Municipal Advisory Council already recommended that the Alameda County Board of Supervisors reject the proposal for the electronic billboard, and at Tuesday’s meeting at the San Lorenzo Library, the council was not persuaded to change its position. Council members expressed concerns that another billboard would only add to the already overwhelming amount of day-to-day advertising and social media vying for people’s attention.

“We all have rights to free speech,” Council President Tyler Dragoni said, “but we also have rights to privacy and rights to be left alone.”

County staff began developing the billboard relocation program in 2006 after residents asked for a reduction in the number of billboards along commercial corridors like Castro Valley Boulevard and East 14th Street but concluded that buying and removing the billboards would be too expensive, Eileen Dalton, director of the county Economic and Civic Development Department, told the council during an information report.

To address the issue, the Board of Supervisors adopted an ordinance in 2008, amended in 2010, that banned new billboards unless they were part of a relocation package that included removing existing billboards. The county hired consulting firm TR Advisors in 2013 to work with Outfront Media and Clear Channel, the two companies that own and operate billboards in the unincorporated area, to craft relocation agreements that would result in a reduction of billboards in the area. To date, 38 billboards have been removed and the approval of the Langton billboard would result in the removal of 10 more, bringing the total number of billboards removed to 48.

In exchange, Clear Channel was given permission to construct one billboard in San Lorenzo and another in Castro Valley, while Outfront Media received approval for two billboards, though only one has been installed in Hayward Acres. The 80-foot-high digital billboard being proposed for construction at 17338 Langton Way in the Ashland and Cherryland area is still under review.

The county anticipates earning $40,000 a year in revenue from the Langton billboard, which could be operational in a little over a year if approved. To date, the county has generated just under $341,000 in revenue from the three active billboards. The municipal advisory councils are expected to recommend how the money should be spent, whether on murals, event sponsorships or other programs, and county staff is expected to return with a plan for spending the revenues in May or June.

One member of the public was supportive of the electronic billboard, pointing out how the program is bringing down billboards and generating funds that could be used to better the community. But the majority of the council and community who spoke had issues with erecting a new billboard, calling it a safety hazard that would distract drivers and contribute to the light pollution in the neighborhood. Others suggested there were alternate ways to remove the remaining billboards, considering that many of them had been blank beyond the 60-day limit allowed by state and local regulations.

The Castro Valley Municipal Advisory Council is set to hear the same presentation at its meeting on Monday, March 20.

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