Sacramento County approves Highway 99 electronic billboard

Sacramento County supervisors have approved a digital billboard along a Highway 99 commute corridor in the south area, continuing a local government trend of authorizing electronic displays in exchange for large fees.

Digital billboards have become increasingly popular, flashing advertisements to drivers near Cal Expo, Sacramento State and other locations, including a city of Sacramento parcel 1 mile north of the proposed county billboard. The new 52-foot-high, two-sided sign would go up along East Stockton Boulevard near the Calvine Road interchange, just east of Highway 99.

Supervisors voted 3-2 Tuesday to allow the sign, which comes with an agreement by CBS Outdoor to pay the county $2.8 million over 30 years, the first electronic billboard deal approved by Sacramento County. They approved the project in quick order after having a full discussion at a July meeting.

Supervisors who voted for the sign said in earlier debate that the billboard is going into a highly developed area that already has a lot of light, countering arguments from environmentalists worried about negative visual impacts from large, bright displays.

Supervisors Phil Serna and Don Nottoli opposed the sign, in part because they thought the board should evaluate the sign proposal only after the county revises its zoning code later this year.

Nottoli said he also opposed the agreement because he thinks the county should not charge sign operators a fee to operate billboards on private property. Seven of the nine existing digital billboards in the county are on public property, while billboards in Rocklin and Rancho Cordova are on private property, according to a county staff report.

Clear Channel Outdoor has agreements with Rocklin, Sacramento, Rancho Cordova and California State University, Sacramento, to allow digital billboards. CBS Outdoor has a similar agreement with Cal Expo.

More digital billboards are expected in the region. As part of Sacramento’s downtown arena deal with the Kings, the team can build six digital billboards on city-owned property along freeways.

When sign companies have to lease land from governments to operate their billboards, they typically pay higher fees. CBS Outdoor paid a $500,000 signing bonus to Cal Expo and will pay minimum annual rent of $225,000 or 30 percent of net income, according to the county staff report.

The county fee came at the suggestion of CBS Outdoor, although the county asked for more money than the company originally offered, a company representative told supervisors last month.

The agreement requires CBS Outdoor to remove five other signs in an effort to reduce visual blight. It also requires the company to display public service advertising – provided by the county – 5 percent of the time on the digital billboard. The agreement bans advertising for tobacco, medical marijuana or adult establishments.

The proposal drew opposition from residents and organizations concerned about the billboard’s potential for visual blight.

A group called “Fight the Light” told supervisors to prevent “light pollution” from such billboards and urged them not to use the billboards as a source of revenue, saying the move would be breach of public trust.

The Environmental Council of Sacramento also opposed the billboard, saying it will harm the appearance of the area, hurt traffic safety and have other negative effects. “ECOS truly hopes that Sacramento is not trying to emulate Times Square,” the organization wrote in a letter to the board.