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Does this council care about looks?
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It didn't take a crystal ball to predict the Ceres City Council vote on electronic billboards would come down to a 4-1 approval. I saw it coming and frankly it was one of the worst decision I have seen made by this panel.

Having watched councils come and go over the past 22 years, I have seen the issue of billboards batted around. I recall in 2003 how Dana Karcher, director of Scenic California based in Bakersfield, told the Ceres council that "how we look is very important" and that billboards are "litter on a stick."

That's a very fitting description of those road signs in general.

I'm disappointed that the council last week thumbed its collective nose at its own Planning Commission and endorsed more trash and blight in signs on city streets. As if paper or nylon signs weren't adequate to relate ad messages, the council thinks it's okay to visually blast motorists as they drive down the main traffic arterials in town. The council, thinking somehow that such signs will help the ailing economy - (hey, maybe they can buy ads in our paper) - is okay with the equivalent of big screen TVs dotting the local landscape, changing messages every 20 seconds and glaring that garish scene that only an LED can. Talk about community aesthetics being shot to hell.

Ceres councils have always seemed to sell out when it comes to billboards and sign promoters. I still feel that the past council sold out the community in 2004 when it allowed Spartan Media billboard company to add yet another ugly billboard to the Hwy. 99 corridor when Spartan offered the backside facing 99 for city use. (That's the billboard near the Whitmore Avenue overpass with the city logo on it.) The council should have rejected that billboard because it violated the city's rule that billboards be more than 1,000 feet from the next closest billboard. They also "broke the rules" in allowing a 56-foot tall sign over the maximum limit of 40 feet.

I've not forgotten how in 2003 despite city staff objections the council bent over backwards to allow Wyatt to erect a billboard which violated the city billboard policy. City sign standards dictate that billboards must have a minimum of a 1,000-foot separation from the next sign but Wyatt was granted a sign that was 510 feet from the next.

It's a bit disconcerting especially since the Great Valley Center has recommended that cities along Highway 99 get away from the practice of billboards. Ceres has 1.5 to three times the density of billboards as the city of Modesto and 6.5 to 20 times the density of billboards in Turlock. To add insult to injury, Ceres billboards generally advertise businesses in Turlock and Modesto and elsewhere.

True, there is a blanket moratorium on new billboards, but last week four of the five councilmen voted to allow insurance agency owner Dirk Wyatt to erect an electronic interchangeable message sign that is larger in size than the sign than he already has (a legal nonconforming sign) at Orchard Park Center on Mitchell Road. If Wyatt could have his way, he's like to see the City Council allow electronic billboards along Highway 99, where he owns four or five of them. And look for this council to approve it with a sign as terribly offensive as the Razzari Ford sign in Merced on dark nights, or the Turlock Auto Plaza sign on Highway 99.

The council's eagerness to please Wyatt at the expense of the rest of the city remains troubling to me.

How do you feel? Let Jeff know at