San Jose officials squash airport billboard proposal
The Mineta San Jose International Airport is pictured in this file photo.

San Jose officials have nixed a proposal to build a digital billboard near the airport, marking a victory for activists fighting the expansion of billboards around the city.

Director of Aviation John Aitken said the site for a proposed billboard on I-880 near Mineta San Jose International Airport was “not a viable location.” In a letter sent earlier this month to the proposer, OutFront Media, Aitken said the location has several safety and environmental conflicts that rule out the possibility of setting up a billboard.

“With this review, the city concludes its vetting of the site and will not be advancing any billboard projects on this parcel,” Aitken said.

John Foster, a representative of OutFront Media, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

San Jose officials enacted an ordinance in September 2018 to allow 22 or more digital billboards on public property near freeways and on buildings downtown. Earlier this year, San Jose officials signed a notice of intent to permit three new billboards, including the one near the airport. In January, the San Jose Airport Commission rejected two proposed digital billboards citing community pushback, light pollution, energy use and lack of transparency around the process. A 2021 survey found over 90% of city respondents opposed digital billboards.

Airport Commission Chair Dan Connolly told San José Spotlight the commission had expressed concern about the proposed billboard being in the flight path.

“I was very pleased with (the city’s) determination, which was our exact determination,” he said. “I think the city and airport made a wise choice.”

The city’s decision to axe one of these proposed sites also comes as a thrill to the coalition of activists who have rallied against the construction of billboards in San Jose since local officials reversed a decades-long ban on building new billboards on public property.

John Miller, co-founder of No Digital Billboards in San Jose, said he objects to the aesthetic ugliness of billboards, and doesn’t buy the argument of boosters who claim digital billboards will bring in new revenue. He believes the tide is turning against billboards in San Jose.

“I think we’re going to see new people coming into City Council who are more sympathetic to the idea we restore the ban on new billboards,” Miller told San José Spotlight, adding the longtime ban on new billboards on public and private property in the city hasn’t harmed the economy.

Some people are concerned digital billboards could erode the historic character of San Jose. Ben Leech, executive director of the Preservation Action Council of San Jose, said digital billboards threaten to literally overshadow historic buildings and signs.

“One of our concerns was if you start incentivizing these things going up, do they start to replace some of the more authentically San Jose parts of the old environment?” Leech told San José Spotlight. “Older architecture would be the first to get covered over if that was the route the city endorsed.”

Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter.

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