The Queque reported incorrectly last week that, save for the absent Philip Cortez, Council unanimously approved the digital-billboard pilot program last December – the program that’s about to plant 15 bright, message-swapping signs along 1604, 281, I-10, and the Pan-Am Freeway. `See “Hang ’em high,” page 12.` But the City’s Approved Minutes had it wrong: District 7 Councilman Justin Rodriguez was the lone holdout. He explained his unrequited opposition in a Monday-morning phone call with the Current.
The ordinance came through as a pilot program, and I think to opponents that just seems like it was a Trojan horse. What’s your sense on that?
Yeah, you know, I honestly at the beginning was at least open to listening to the proposal. Once I got a little more details about it, I was concerned that here these companies are gonna invest quite a bit of money in erecting the signs, and that was gonna end up putting them and us as policymakers in a bind when it came to the year lapsing and looking back on how we wanted to proceed from there. Ultimately that factored into at least my decision-making, in that once you open the door, albeit even a small crack, it’s a little harder to close. I went for myself and took a look at the one in Corpus Christi, just to kind of put it in context, because I’m kind of just a visual person, and that was what made up my decision — I just didn’t think it was something that, you know — I mean obviously there’s the aesthetic part of it — it’s just, I think, a blight to the landscape. And I just didn’t think — the proposal that was put up there was this is linked to take down some of the paper signs that are out there, that’s how it was couched, and I was just never sold on that. I thought there were other ways to accomplish that without compromising some of our Scenic Corridors.
One of the ways it was presented to Council, and also to the public to some extent, was, well, hey, we can go ahead and `put up digital signs` anyways, so really we’re offering you guys a carrot here because we promised to take down X number of billboards if you let us have this. And you’re saying that’s not your understanding; council could have found other ways to address ...
No, I mean the way that it was really presented to us — and keep in mind, it was in the early fall, or the late fall of last year, there were at least five new council members, and the way it was really, I thought, sold was, hey, this is what we’re gonna do — I guess in a sense, yeah, carrot, saying hey, all your neighborhoods hate these little signs in the neighborhoods, we’ll take those down in exchange for doing this. And there just never really seemed to be a firm commitment, at least that I ever perceived, on the number of signs, where those signs were gonna be located — because the reality is, I think, they’ve taken down probably some low-revenue-producing signs in exchange for these digital billboards in high-profile locations, so I don’t think it was really apples and apples. It just seemed a little bit deceiving to me.
You mention the high-revenue producing signs in major locations. Some of those of course are along Scenic Corridors, along 281 and 1604. Could you explain how did that happen, because those were basically non-conforming signs, and now not only are they not going to go away at the end of their usable life, they’re going to become digital.
Yeah, I think what happened, there was a lot of, it seemed like, things happening behind the scenes, and I think some issues that went before the electrical board. My recollection was, when we talked about this, there was, at least on its surface, I remember there being some commitment that there would not be any in the Scenic Corridors. 281 I remember in particular; 1604 I don’t remember specifically having that conversation, but I know those corridors were outlined by Scenic San Antonio and some other groups, and I’ll be honest with you, Elaine, I don’t know how that happened. I just feel like, again, a little bit of a shell game was played here.
You’ve got the website greensanantonio.org. One of the things that Greg Harman, our staff writer, keeps pointing out to me is that these signs use a fair amount of energy. It seems a little ironic to be having these green initiatives on one hand at the city level, but then on the other hand approve these signs.
Yeah, it’s a little bit ironic that we are. I think my feeling is there’s a commitment there to move forward on some green initiatives in our city and to be a lot more progressive, and my goal is to be one of the greenest cities in the country, but yet we’re allowing policies that are counter to that, such as the digital billboards. You know that came up, I guess, before we started the sustainability plan, so I think it needs to be part of it; we have to have that discussion in terms of whether it’s something that is congruent with what we want to do comprehensively as a city when it comes to environmental policy. I don’t think in the past, even in the recent past, those things were considered, but I think they need to be now, and hopefully as we move forward we’ll consider that. •