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City needs to reject electronic billboards request
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In April 2008 I weighed in on this issue but it's timely that I touch on it again: Ceres needs to turn a thumbs down to the request by Dirk Wyatt to have the city approve electronic billboards.

The matter will come before the Ceres City Council on July 13. The Ceres Planning Commission voted 3-1-1 on June 15 to deny a Zoning Ordinance Amendment proposal.

Ceres doesn't need to give into Wyatt's pressure. The insurance agent and owner of billboards along Highway 99, would love to be able to erect electronic billboards along Mitchell Road, and perhaps 99 itself. I say city officials should resist the temptation.

There is nothing appealing about a billboard, which is essentially litter on a stick. It's equally offensive to a community aesthetics to see the neon glow of signs. These would be worse than the red LED electronic signs at Modesto Adventist Academy and Ceres High School. (FYI, both Ceres Unified School District and the Adventist facility put up their signs in violations of the city sign ordinance). Wyatt proposes electronic billboards that would be more colorful and glitzier.

Want an idea of how offensive? Ever get night blinded by the Turlock Auto Plaza billboard or Razzari Ford Merced's electronic billboards? Need I say more.

Yeah, I know that Wyatt's sign provider suggests that those signs aren't equipped with new technology that automatically dims at night but all electronic signs are a distraction, period. Even billboards are visually distracting - that's why people pay good money to put their message on them.

The Outdoor Advertising Association of America proclaims that "digital advertising is one of the most dynamic and fastest growing areas in the outdoor advertising industry." They expect today's 800 digital billboards to mushroom to about 9,000 in just a decade.

The new digital displays work like giant TV screens, like what some call "Powerpoint on a pole." Rather than the static image of the past, a digital billboard flashes a different image every few seconds. The bright, rapidly-changing graphics light up the sky, demanding our attention, night and day.

Aside from the visual assault and the newest form of neighborhood blight, digital advertising has another less obvious downside. Just when every watt of power generated in the U.S. is becoming more precious, these billboards suck up a lot of juice.

According to the U.S. Green Building Council in Texas, one full-sized (14 x 48 foot) digital billboard uses as much electricity as 13 average homes.

I understand why Wyatt and the business community might want to see such signs. While a single digital billboard is expensive to install - perhaps costing $500,000 - and to run, advertising companies make a lot of money on each installation. Unlike a traditional sign, people like Wyatt can sell space to multiple advertisers, rotating through five ads per minute.

Placing an ad within the rotating electronic loop is much cheaper than the long-term lease of an old style billboard. Since ads can be custom designed for a particular time slot, a restaurant can hype a lunch special during the morning, and make a pitch tailored toward dinner service later on.

The billboard company gets increased profits. Potential advertisers get more flexibility and better pricing. It is the broader community which gets stuck with all the hidden costs - and few benefits. The community gets visual clutter, especially at night, along with the incessant distraction of rapidly changing messages.

We're told by the president, Congress and Al Gore of all the things we can do as individuals to reduce our carbon footprint - change our light bulbs, drive less, turn down the heat. Families and businesses are finding good reason to increase their energy efficiency, while political initiatives seek to improve fuel economy standards for cars and place restrictions on new power plants. What we fail to hear often, though, is a critique of broad social trends, where "progress" is leading to dramatically increased energy waste. Digital billboards are only the most glaring example of an inappropriate new technology that, by design, increases the use of electricity.

Bright Las Vegas type of signs in small town Ceres is a bad idea.

How do you feel? Let Jeff know at