City leaders oppose billboards

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Electronic billboards are back in the spotlight in Salt Lake, as city leaders work to revise rules about how and where they can operate.

News specialist Jared Page explains why city leaders don't like the digital signs and what they plan to do about them.

City leaders, including outspoken Mayor Ralph Becker do not like billboards, particularly those that have gone digital, like that on 600 South. There's little that can be done about those already in place, but city leaders can keep traditional billboards from being converted to electronic signs; and for now, that's what they intend to do.

"Most of us don't regard billboards as something that enhances the visual quality and aesthetics of our community," Becker said.


In January, Salt Lake City put in place a temporary ordinance that prevents billboards from being converted to electronic signs other than on freeways and major highways. But in order to do that under the ordinance, billboard companies have to take down another sign in the city.

"We can't afford to shut half of our business down to deploy electronics," Jeffrey S. Young, senior vice president of Young Electric Sign Co. said.

City leaders aren't satisfied with the ordinance either, but they felt pressure to pass something before the Legislature stepped in.

"We knew they have a tendency to get involved in these issues," Becker said.

We can't afford to shut half of our business down to deploy electronics.

–- Jeffrey S. Young, YESCO

Legislation that would have taken away the city's authority to regulate billboards passed easily in the House but stalled in the Senate.

"We firmly believe that, if given an opportunity, the Senate would have passed this bill," Young said. "Unfortunately, we ran out of time, and we didn't get to a vote."

The Legislature's lack of action allows Salt Lake City to tackle the issue on its home turf rather than the state Capitol, where billboard companies, particularly Reagan, have gained a foothold through generous campaign contributions. In the past 10 years, Reagan has donated more than $800,000 to local campaigns.

" We're going back to the table and looking at what we should do in terms of a policy going forward," Becker said.

Attempts to reach Reagan officials for comment were unsuccessful. As for YESCO, it's decided they won't try to convert any of their billboards to electronics as long as Salt Lake City requires them to take down a billboard somewhere else.


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