By Miriam Raftery
December 1, 2023 (La Mesa) – An online petition started by Keep La Mesa Beautiful in opposition to the city’s plan to allow electronic billboards has attracted 338 signatures sent it launched on November 21. Now, the new owner of Grossmont Center has sent a letter to the city’s mayor and city council opposing two proposed e-billboards along I-8 as detrimental to the regional shopping mall.
Scott Vallee, senior vice president of Western Regional Development, authored the letter as a representative of Grossmont Center’s new owner, Federal Realty. He noted that the new owner has made a significant commitment in purchasing the mall with a goal of continuing to serve the community with a diverse array of stores, restaurants and services.
Vallee argues that two digital billboards proposed on Murray Drive and visible from I-8 could be “to the detriment of Grossmont Shopping Center’s marketability as a regional destination retail site” by impeding freeway drivers’ view of Grossmont Center and its signs. “Our shopping center’s static signs won’t compete well for a driver’s attention against the large, bright, digital displays that are being proposed,” Vallee wrote.
The mall ownership supports a non-commercial city sign also included in the city’s proposal, and asks,”Is this sort of advertising opportunity only available to advertising companies that already own billboards that can be removed and leveraged to a more lucrative sign location? If so it seems that this arrangement allows for an inequitable competitive position ... Would Grossmont Shopping Center be awarded similar digital media rights to try to preserve our retailer’s signage and branding interests?”
Councilman Jack Shu has argued against allowing e-billboards based on both aesthetic and safety concerns, citing the risk of distracted motorists causing accidents and potential legal liabilty for the city if e-billboards contribute to crashes. An East County Magazine investigation obtained Calif. Highway Patrol records on accidents along I-8 east and west throughout the city of La Mesa from Lake Murray Blvd. on the west to Chase Ave. in El Cajon, since one billboard site would be near the La Mesa/El Cajon boundary. We also asked for data on accidents on onramps connecting I-8 and SR 125. The data reveals that from Jan. 1, 2018 to Oct. 10, 2023, there were 1,805 accidents in those locations. Those accidents resulted in 20 fatalities and 673 injuries.
On its petition, the steering committee for La Mesa Beautiful notes the city’s “small-town charm and unique character,” adding that as a Tree City USA, “La Mesa has always been a symbol of beauty, cleanliness, and safety. However, this identity is now under threat due to a proposal to allow for the construction of large digital billboards along the I-8 and 125 interchange.”
The petition states, “These giant flashing billboards will not only disrupt our tranquil community but also threaten our quality of life. The American Association of Highway Transportation Officials states that digital billboards can cause significant driver distraction leading to potential road safety issues.”
It notes that according to the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) light pollution from such digital signs can disrupt wildlife behavior and negatively affect human health.
“La Mesa's charm lies in its simplicity and natural beauty - not in flashy digital displays that will mar its landscape.”
Concerned residents can click this link to sign the online petition.