Probably before the end of 2014, the Richmond City Council will be grappling with the issue of LED (light emitting diode) billboards in Richmond. Pressure is mounting from more than one source.

I am requesting E-FORUM readers to let me know whether you support or oppose modifying Richmond’s sign ordinance to allow large format LED billboards.

The outdoor advertising industry has been pushing these for years, and they are willing to pay cities millions of dollars for the privilege of locating them. There is actually one already in Richmond at Pacific East Mall. The story of how it got there has various versions, but the most common one is that the owner applied for a permit to “repair” an existing billboard, and when the “repairs” were completed, it had become an LED billboard, not allowed by Richmond ordinance but there nevertheless.

The next pressure point is at Hilltop Mall, where the fortunes of the now decades-old shopping center are declining, arguably because it is an obsolete business model that has never been overhauled. The mall is currently in bankruptcy and is slated to go on the market later this year. The current owners in receivership believe that it should be redeveloped into something more like Santana Row in San Jose or Bay Street in Emeryville with mixed commercial and residential uses. Meanwhile, existing mall merchants and some Hilltop residents believe that an LED sign is essential to boost activity at the mall while its long term fate is determined. For several years, turning the existing pylon-style Mall sign into an LED sign has been discussed. One problem is that the land on which the sign is located belongs to neither the City nor the Mall. It belongs to “The Tides” LLC, (apartment complex nearest to the sign). The City has an access easement, which permits maintenance of the existing sign, however; the easement does not give the City authority to process an application for modifying the sign or entering into a contractual agreement with another entity without permission from the property owner. A national sign company recently submitted a proposal to replace the Hilltop monument sign with a wide screen electronic message center intended for general advertising; however, the application cannot be processed without the property owner’s written consent. The Tides LLC is aware of the request to install a message center; however, to date, they have not granted permission to proceed.

Proponents argue that electronic billboards are essential for business and jobs.

Opponents argue that they just add to already too much visual blight and dangerously distract drivers. As for local business and jobs, advertising is sold to the highest bidder, which is more likely to be a national corporation than your local mom and pop retailer.

This fight is going on all over the country. See for examples. Let us (Tom Butt) know your thoughts.

City Councilman Tom Butt:

City Councilman Nat Bates:

City Councilman Jim Rogers:

City Councilman Gayle McLaughlin:

City Councilman Jovanka Beckles:

City Councilman Corky Booze:

City Councilman Jael Myrick: