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Billboard firms battle for scarce Rancho Cordova highway space

Sacramento

Digital billboards are becoming so popular in Sacramento County that advertising companies are running out of places to put them.

The state has approved 14 of the large electronic signs near highways in the county, but additional ones will be limited by state and local restrictions on where they can go. Rancho Cordova allows the signs only along two short stretches of Highway 50, an area about 3 miles long, and the signs cannot be within a half-mile of each other.

That stretch of Highway 50 offers high visibility to advertisers considering the heavy volume of weekday commuters and weekend recreational travelers that use the route.

The one digital billboard already in Rancho Cordova has left little space for additional signs, according to the advertising companies. As a result, Clear Channel Outdoor and CBS Outdoor are competing for some of the last available land, and the City Council will have to choose one or the other.

On Dec. 15, the City Council will consider the competing proposals for 60-foot-high signs, one of which would go on the location of Naturwood Home Furnishings on Folsom Boulevard, the other of which would go just east of the store. The council can’t approve both of the proposals because they’re too close to one another – less than 1,000 feet.

The signs have proliferated in recent years as billboard companies have offered a share of advertising revenue to cities and counties.

Some Rancho Cordova council members wondered if they could approve both signs. But city staff said even if they wanted to waive the city’s legal requirements, state regulations also prohibit digital signs from being within 1,000 feet of one another.

During a recent hearing this month on the sign proposals, Rancho Cordova resident Mary Nesel said she appreciates that the city has kept much of Highway 50 free of advertising clutter.

“I find the signs distracting and think we would all be better off without any of them,” she told the City Council.

Councilwoman Linda Budge, an urban planner by trade, said she has long thought the same way about billboards. However, Budge said she has softened her stance because city staff repeatedly told her about the money the city receives from advertising companies for allowing the signs.

Both proposals call for the companies to make annual payments to the city, even though the city does not own the land where they would go. Sacramento County supervisors in August approved a $2.8 million, 30-year deal with CBS Outdoor for an electronic billboard along Highway 99.

Under Rancho Cordova’s digital billboard ordinance, the city can waive certain requirements when advertisers enter into an “operating agreement.” Both Clear Channel and CBS are each offering to pay $50,000 a year, plus a $75,000 signing bonus, if the city partially waives requirements that four traditional billboards must come down in exchange for a new digital billboard. The contracts would last 25 years, with an option to renew.

The agreements would also give the city time on the billboard to display public interest messages.

Each company is proposing taking down two billboards. During the recent public hearing, representatives from Clear Channel and CBS got into an unusual disagreement in an effort to boost their digital sign proposals – they argued that the billboards they wanted to take down were uglier than their competitor’s.

Clear Channel is also proposing a one-time payment of $25,000 to the city for Folsom Boulevard revitalization or any other beautification project of the city’s choosing. The payment has been offered to offset the loss of 10 mature redwood trees the company plans to remove to put up the sign, said city planner Jessica Jordan.

Her environmental review of the project said the tree removal will not cause a significant impact on the area’s scenic resources because they’re not located on a scenic highway.

Most council members did not indicate which proposal they support, except for Budge. She said she is likely to support the Clear Channel project simply because the company has positive record in Rancho Cordova, including voluntarily removing hundreds of signs from the light-rail corridor.

Call The Bee’s Brad Branan, (916) 321-1065. Follow him on Twitter @BradB_at_SacBee.

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