Driving on the 405 freeway north at night recently, a flash of bright, white light stunned me momentarily. It came from some advertisement on the electronic sign at the Bella Terra mall in Huntington Beach, and I was just glad I was not in the middle of a lane change or suddenly stopped traffic at the moment of my temporary blindness. It's a sensation we may have to get used to even more along one of the busiest freeway corridors in the country if a giant media company gets its way.
Tonight, the Fountain Valley City Council will consider Clear Channel's proposal for a 65-foot high digital sign on city-owned land at the south side of the 405 at Euclid Street. That's on the same side of the freeway as the electronic sign at Bella Terra, which is only another four exits north on Beach Boulevard.
A 30-year lease for Clear Channel and its "Vegas-style sign" is being bitterly opposed by residents who fear the flashy billboard will lower property values. Organized via a Facebook page—https://www.facebook.com/No-Clear-Channel-Digital-Billboard-in-Fountain-Valley-533475833473089/—the group plans to be out in force for tonight's 6 p.m. meeting at Fountain Valley City Hall.
"This proposed sign is ILLEGAL according to Fountain Valley’s long established strict sign ordinance 21.25," writes sign opponent Kim Constantine in an email to the Weekly. "The fact that the City of Fountain Valley owns the land where the sign would be placed does not override that ordinance."
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She says something smells rotten not only in Denmark but on Slater Avenue, where City Hall is located: City Council Member Michael Vo accepted a $500 Clear Channel Worldwide campaign contribution in 2011, then another for $500 from Clear Channel Outdoor in November 2014, according to city records.
"These campaign donations are perfectly legal, though many are not in agreement and strongly believe it is a huge conflict of interest," Constantine writes. "For Council Member Vo to become 100 percent impartial, it would be in his best interest to recuse himself from the project vote when it comes to that."
Cities, of course, are always looking for new revenue sources to fill ever-growing budget gaps—which is why, for instance, we see commercial advertising on trash cans at Surf City beaches. But foes fear the electronic sign, which dwarfs a similar one in neighboring Costa Mesa, is overkill given the proposed height, 672 square feet on screen on either face and 850,000 light bulbs.
It was enough to spur the Fountain Valley Planning Commission to reject the proposal in August, but the applicant appealed to the City Council. If nothing else, tonight's debate should light up a normally sleepy bedroom community.