San Jose ends ban on new billboards, despite pleas from majority of community

San Jose ends ban on new billboards, despite pleas from majority of community
Photo by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash
By Marie Edinger - Published on February 17, 2022.

For 35 years, the city of San Jose had extremely strict rules banning the erection of new billboards. Now, city officials are easing up and cashing out.

In October of 2021, a new set of rules called Council Policy 6-4 changed the area’s guidelines on billboards, allowing upwards of 22 digital signs on notable downtown landmark buildings, the airport, and property that faces the freeway. Some of those billboards would also double the 500-square-foot size limit the city had in place previously.

This week, San Jose’s city council voted 9-2 to approve two large digital billboards that Clear Channel will erect near the northern end of the airport, on the southern side of Highway 101, near the intersection with Highway 87.

Last year, the city surveyed residents to see how they felt about the potential for new billboards. 93% said they didn’t want them. The city staff moved forward anyway.

San Jose’s Municipal Code argues its regulations are focused on beauty and practicality. Those against the new billboards feel the they don’t align with that code.

“Signs are an important and necessary means of communication. When properly regulated, signs can serve as a great economic and aesthetic asset. They can be lively, colorful and exciting. In enacting this title, it is the intent of the City of San José to promote attractive signage and streetscapes, facilitate way-finding and traffic safety, promote commerce, and to comprehensively address community aesthetic concerns about visual clutter and visual blight in the environment,” the code states.

There are some limits to the new signs, however, and the City is making sure to profit from the decision.

Firstly, the digital signs are only permitted to run 18 hours of the day; they have to be turned off from midnight to 6:00 a.m. when they might’ve otherwise been most distracting to drivers.

Plus, 10% of the ad revenue made from the signs has to go to the airport. The City estimates that could amount to as much as $900,000 in extra cash each year.

Finally, Clear Channel had to make a trade in order to carry out its new contract. It has to tear down a dozen billboards in low-income neighborhoods in order to place the two 1,000-square-foot ones near the airport. Then, it has to plant 215 new trees in exchange for cutting down 43 that will have to come down to make room for the billboards.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo told KPIX the deal is a win-win, stating, “It is a greater benefit to our public to see more billboards down than up. It’s straightforward math.”