20 Aug 2014
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Residents: Digital Billboards are Distracting

Planning Commission listens to comments from the public at a meeting Wednesday night.

Residents: Digital Billboards are Distracting


That was the judgment of concerned Newark residents opposed to the city’s plans to place digital billboards within city limits.

Four residents challenged the idea of the electronic signs during a public hearing at Wednesday’s Planning Commission meeting, citing safety as a major reason for their stance against new-tech billboards.

The hearing was held to consider a study and conditional use permits for three signs: two digital LED billboards 48 feet wide and 14 feet high and a proposed pylon sign that would be 85 feet tall and 29 feet wide.

That pylon sign would replace a current auto mall sign and could include two 12-by-24-foot full-color LED displays.

One digital LED billboard would be built on Gateway Boulevard along Highway 84 between the Thornton Avenue and Newark Boulevard on-ramps while the other and the pylon sign would be erected on Mowry School Road adjacent to Interstate 880.

With four votes of approval, the commission agreed to continue the hearing to a future, undetermined date when the contract with the company proposing to build the signs is finalized.

Chairperson Glen Kramer and commissioners Karen Bridges and Robert Marshall were absent.

Community Development Director Terrence Grindall said the outdoor signs would give visibility to the city and generate revenue totaling $100,000.

That figure would be a contracted total with Clear Channel Outdoor, an advertising company that has built nearly 1 million displays throughout the world, according to the company’s website.

Grindall added that the city would be allowed to advertise city-sponsored events and meetings and would have some control over what advertisements are allowed.

All commissioners present had questions regarding what advertisements are not allowed and the procedures for removing the signs in worst-case scenarios, such as if the company seizes to exist or is bought out by another.

Grindall said advertisements that direct business to the city’s competitors will not be allowed and that the contract will detail that the company will be responsible for removing the signs if they become unused or unwanted.

Before opening the public hearing, Vice Chair Janet Drews openly stated her opposition of the signs.

“Aesthetically, personally, I do not like them. They are a bit large. I think they are distracting,” Drews said. 

Comparing them to the size of her backyard, Drews said she felt the width of the digital billboards is too large. She, too, echoed the sentiment that the signs are distracting. Her statements were welcomed with approval from the residents present.

“What was nice when I drove through Newark (as a kid), there were not a lot distractions,” said Drews, adding that she feels the city should seek revenue from other sources, such as allowing more cell towers from wireless services that can easily blend in.

She did agree, however, that the auto mall sign should be replaced and asked for the items to be analyzed separately in a future meeting.

Newark resident Mari Miller said while she sympathizes with the city in finding ways to produce revenue in trying economic times, she believes the signs are “unsightly” and takes away from Newark’s origins.

“I love Newark. I love living here. It’s that small-town feeling … That’s something we should protect and cherish,” Miller said. “I agree with chairperson Drews and I hope you can find other ways to increase revenue of the city.”

Her husband, Wayne Miller, said he is more understanding of constructing signs along Interstate 880 but would strongly oppose one being built on Gateway Boulevard.

“That’s the gateway to Newark,” Wayne Miller said. 

Margaret Lewis said the signs are simply distracting.

Grindall said the advertisements would not include moving images but would rotate to another advertisement in 8-second increments.

“The lighting is extremely distracting. Even at your peripheral [vision], you get this flashing, and you think, ‘Good grief. What is that?’ and it’s an advertisement,” Lewis said.

She emphasized that despite city officials’ findings that there is no evidence that digital billboards cause traffic accidents, the signs present a safety issue.

“Driving. One thing we don’t need is another distraction,” Drews said.

Rick Bensco was the only commenter whose main worry was not about the distractions the signs could potentially create.

Instead, he said he feels the revenue should not only benefit the city but that city officials should consider how and whether the monies could also profit Newark schools.

Currently, there are no advertising billboards along Newark, according to Grindall.

Consideration of the proposal comes after the city to allow non-site specific advertisements on signs.

Prior to this, signs seen from the freeways that run through Newark were only allowed to include a name of a building, person, firm, corporation or product.

Similar signs can be seen along 880 throughout the Bay Area, including near the San Mateo Bridge, Oakland Airport and on the border of Hayward and Union City.

To download the Initial Study and Mitigated Negative Declaration of the project, click here.

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