By Jacob Pamus
Image: Rendering of a proposed e-billboard in La Mesa
August 8, 2023 (La Mesa) – On July 25, the La Mesa City Council rejected a recommendation of an ad hoc committee known as the “Digital Billboard Ad-hoc Subcommittee.” Councilwoman Patricia Dillard and Councilman Jack Shu are in this subcommittee; its purpose was to issue a request for proposals with billboard companies to build digital billboards in La Mesa.
But ultimately, Shu and Dillard shifted their stances to oppose electronic billboards.
Resident Don Wood spoke against electronic billboards and had threatened a lawsuit if the initial recommendation went forward without assessing the risks of digital billboards, especially distracting drivers.
During the Council discussion, Councilman Jack Shu actually supported the claim that these billboards can be dangerous for drivers, interestingly, Shu was not always against the billboards but changed his mind. During the meeting he said, “I just read a compendium of 15 different safety studies which clearly show that digital billboards are a hazard on our roadways. They increase the number of accidents; they distract drivers.”
Jack Shu’s second point was about the aesthetic impact of these billboards, “Would we consider such a digital billboard in La Mesa village? Spring (Street) and La Mesa Boulevard?...I think not.” Shu said views along Interstate-8 that would be lessened by these billboards.
Councilwoman Patricia Dillard completely agreed with Councilman Jack Shu. “Given that the two of us are not leaning in favor of supporting this…I don’t see any sense in going forward with it,” she said.
Councilwoman Laura Lothian said that she did not know that the recommendation was for new billboards being built and not just current billboards being redone.
Another important fact in this issue is an existing billboard ban ordinance that makes the recommendation of building digital billboards technically illegal, though Clear Channel Outdoor obtained a ruling from Caltrans to place two billboards along Interstate-8 by the 125 interchange.
Scenic America, which opposed the billboards, explains, “One of these billboards was to be placed immediately west of the interchange, strategically targeting drivers merging from southbound SR-125 to westbound I-8 or from eastbound I-8. The second location was proposed less than half a mile west of the first, targeting motorists on both sides of I-8.”
At the end of the discussion, the recommendation was denied by a 3-2 vote. Mayor Mark Arapostathis and Councilman Colin Parent voted in favor of the recommendation because of the extra money that the new billboards could bring in. Councilmembers Patricia Dillard joined with Councilmembers Laura Lothian and Jack Shu in voting against the billboards due to the traffic risks.