After being whittled down by fierce community opposition, San Jose lawmakers have officially paused a plan to erect digital billboards on private property.
Before lawmakers stopped it, Phase 2 of the city’s signage plan involved placing electronic billboards on public buildings downtown and up to 75 digital signs on private property along freeways. The proposal could’ve been approved by summer, but the San Jose City Council on Thursday unanimously halted plans to allow digital billboards on private buildings to focus on COVID-19 relief.
The city plans to move forward with installing electronic signs on public property downtown — a revenue generator for the city. It’s unclear how much the city could earn off the plan.
Signs could be placed on the side of public toilets and the money generated would fund the maintenance of those restrooms, said Kim Walesh, director of economic development.
Mayor Sam Liccardo and downtown Councilmember Raul Peralez — who previously supported additional digital billboards — led the charge to pause the proposal.
“In comparison to all the other pressing needs that we have in this coming year, the sign code should not take a priority amongst those,” Peralez said.
Phase 1 of the plan, approved in 2018, could add up to 22 billboards on 17 city-owned sites across San Jose. Eight of those sites are reserved for freeway-facing billboards, while the remaining sites will allow electronic signs to be mounted on public walls downtown. Phase 1 is still in the development stage.
For years, local leaders have touted electronic billboards as a way to generate revenue and add color and excitement to the local landscape, but digital signs have faced the wrath of residents who argue billboards are harmful to the environment, human health and the historic integrity of the city.
John Miller, co-founder of the organization No Digital Billboards in San Jose, led the grassroots charge to stop Phase 2. He said Thursday while the vote only temporarily stalled more billboards, he’s happy the council is shifting its focus.
“We are pleased that the private property component of Phase 2 has been de-prioritized and apparently defunded,” Miller told San José Spotlight.
But Miller was skeptical of the city’s choice to move forward with putting more signs downtown.
“Though this aspect of Phase 2 has been under review for a couple of years, it has not been possible to obtain any estimate regarding the amount of advertising revenue that would be accrued by the city,” Miller said. “The project seems like a solution in search of a problem.”
Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.