Despite opposition, San Joseans driving down Highway 101 could soon see more billboards in the coming months.
San Jose released a draft plan Monday to build two digital billboards at the Mineta San Jose International Airport. The billboards will be located just south of Highway 101, with each sign measuring approximately 1,000 square feet.
According to the plan, the billboards will have a San Jose airport logo and will be operated by media company Clear Channel. To comply with the city’s rules on electronic billboards, both signs will go dark from midnight to 6 a.m. every day. The city estimates it will need to remove 43 trees to accommodate the billboards, which it says it will replace on-site or in other areas.
“The project would not conflict with applicable zoning and other regulations governing scenic quality,” the plan reads. “The nearest residences are located over a mile away from the project site, and the signs would not be visible to residences due to intervening structures and foliage.”
After the draft plan’s 30-day public circulation period ends on Aug. 25, city officials will review and respond to public comments. The plan is expected to go before the City Council in the fall.
The plan says the billboards will comply with city, state and federal light standards and won’t distract drivers and pilots.
In February 2020, the airport approved an initial plan for the two billboards including locations, according to airport spokesperson Demetria Machado. She said the billboards are expected to generate $600,000 annually for the airport.
“The locations were carefully selected to limit the impact to neighboring businesses and airport operations and are facing the freeway with the airport’s fuel farm across the freeway,” Machado told San José Spotlight.
Local anti-billboard group No Digital Billboards in San Jose has concerns about the potential impact the electronic signs will have on the surrounding area. The group also believes the signs will have a much greater environmental impact than the city admits.
“Our officials in San Jose, a progressive modern city, are actually going to cut down 43 trees to put up two billboards. It’s really beyond belief,” said John Miller, co-founder of No Digital Billboards in San Jose. The group seeks to push the city to permanently extend its 1985 billboard ban. “This process was hidden, this process wasn’t out in the open.”
Supporters of an increase in billboards around the city, including the San Jose Downtown Association, say that billboards will increase revenue and tourist activity and add to the city’s urban character. The association declined comment.
San Jose previously had a citywide ban on new billboards starting in 1985 due to community concerns about blight, visual clutter and the possibility for objectionable messages.
But in 2018, the San Jose City Council approved the first portion of a two-part plan to place electronic billboards on public buildings downtown and up to 75 digital signs on private property along freeways. The first part of the plan allows up to 22 billboards on 17 city-owned sites, with 13 downtown and four at the airport. Of the 17 sites, eight are reserved for freeway-facing billboards.
The COVID-19 pandemic delayed plans for new billboards, with each sign requiring an advertiser. The proposed airport project represents the first new billboards in the city since the council approved the two-part plan in 2018.
A city-led survey of approximately 2,000 residents in April found that locals are overwhelmingly against new billboards, with 91% of respondents either “strongly opposed” or “somewhat opposed,” regardless of whether they are built on public or private property.
“Here we have city leaders well aware of the survey results,” Miller said. “So what do our city leaders do? They endorse the notion of these two billboards on a freeway, right smack dab in opposition to 90% of their constituents.”