The billboard discussion set for Wednesday, March 22 will be postponed because of concerns with how the item was described on the agenda, called “noticing issues.” The postponement will be announced at the beginning of the Reno City Council meeting Wednesday and the billboard item probably will be bumped to April, according to the City Attorney’s office.

When the discussion is held, the council is expected to give direction to city planning staff on how to rewrite the billboard ordinance, the next step in making changes we hope will enforce a vote of the people to ban new construction of billboards.

Divided City Council

Staff was directed to prepare a report for the Wednesday meeting with possible options for the rewrite. To see the report click here. The options range from billboard deregulation to enforcing the people’s ballot initiative.

Staff’s first choice would be to prohibit the construction of new standard and digital billboards for the most part. That would meet the intent of the voter’s ban on new construction passed in 2000, if that recommendation eventually succeeds.

The council is divided on whether to enforce the ban or to continue allowing new billboards within the city limits. During the past year Council Member Jenny Brekhus has asked the council to review the current regulations, which were put in place by the previous city council.

Options to uphold the billboard ban are favored by Brekhus and Council Members Paul McKenzie and Naomi Duerr. Options that allow new billboards, including digital ones, are supported by Mayor Hillary Schieve and Council Members Neoma Jardon and Oscar Delgado. Councilman David Bobzien is claiming a conflict of interest that prevents him from voting.

Staff Recommendations

Staff has recommended repeal of the regulations that allow sign owners to replace billboards taken down, referred to as the “banking” and “relocation” ordinances. If a sign owner doesn’t have a new location, the permit is “banked” until a new spot is found, leaving a backlog today of about 82 permits. Scenic Nevada has always maintained that is new construction and does not meet the voter’s intent to ban new billboards.

New billboard under construction in 2011 along Interstate 580

In its March 22 report, city staff calls the banking and relocation system a “liability” and recommends closing the bank to new deposits but allowing the last 82 permits to be used. “This would be more in line with the voter’s initiative of 2000 than the existing banking system,” the staff report says.

We believe the existing banked permits granted between 2002 and 2012 are invalid and cannot be used to construct new billboards. Scenic Nevada last month filed a lawsuit asking the court to void these permits. The city’s response is due March 31 and oral arguments will be scheduled after that.

Validating one of our long-standing arguments, staff says in its report that digitals are an “intensification” of billboards “which would be in violation of the voter’s initiative,” and should be prohibited.

The council’s decision can go in any direction. We think the best and simplest one is to enforce the people’s vote. No new construction, prohibiting new permits for both standard and digital billboards and closing the billboard bank for good.

Billboard Options

In an effort to provide the council with options, staff’s second choice would recommend digital billboards but only on Interstate 580/395 between North and South McCarren Boulevard. To reduce billboard clutter, staff said sign owners could get a digital permit on the highway, if existing standard billboards are demolished on surface streets.

We know some council members are seeking a balance or compromise between the desires of Scenic Nevada and the billboard industry. Our position is there should be no compromise on the people’s vote. But a balance would still exist even with a ban because only new construction is prohibited, allowing the industry to maintain its current inventory of about 182 billboards for local advertising.

Some of the positive benefits with a ban include:
· The community can look forward to a gradual decline in billboard clutter as billboards come down voluntarily due to property redevelopment and expiring leases.

· With less clutter and blight, comes an improvement in economic vitality that aesthetically pleasing cities attract.

· Pristine mountain vistas along our highways and our dark night skies are preserved.

· The city is not under threat of constant lawsuits from those who feel the city’s sign ordinances are unfair because everyone is treated equally; no one gets a new billboard.
Time to Weigh In

The postponement means there is still time to contact the city council. It’s time to finally enforce our vote. Contact the Reno City Council and SHARE YOUR OPINION.

Mayor Hillary Schieve – schieveh@reno.gov – 334-2001
Jenny Brekhus – brekhusj@reno.gov – Ward 1 – 334-2011
Naomi Duerr – duerrn@reno.gov – Ward 2 – 334-2017
Oscar Delgado – delgadoo@reno.gov – Ward 3 – 334-2012
Paul McKenzie – mckenziep@reno.gov – Ward 4 – 334-2015
Neoma Jardon – jardonn@reno.gov – Ward 5 – 334-2016