Excerpted from the San Diego Union-Tribune article by David Garrick:
San Diego region is national model for strict billboard rules, fighting visual clutter
"Most locals unaware of successful court fight that vindicated billboard crackdown four decades ago.
When people tout San Diego they focus on the mild climate, beaches and sparkling bays — not the relative absence of billboards compared to most other metropolitan areas like Los Angeles and Phoenix.
But the San Diego region is considered a model for strict and successful billboard regulations thanks to community leaders four decades ago focusing on ridding the local landscape of visual clutter.
Local officials frequently get calls from across the nation asking how San Diego and its surrounding suburbs managed to become one of the least friendly markets in the nation for billboard advertising. Nearly 600 billboards remain in place within the San Diego city limits today, but no new billboards have been erected there in nearly 40 years.
“It’s something that makes San Diego unique — when you come into San Diego, you see less billboards,” said Gary Geiler, who oversees San Diego’s billboard restrictions as an assistant director in the city’s Development Services Department. The region’s success regulating billboards traces back to a 1981 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that gave San Diego the power to prohibit any new billboards based on city concerns about community aesthetics and traffic safety."
"That’s why many San Diego residents are shocked while driving through other cities with less strict regulations, said Pamela Wilson, leader of an anti-billboard group called Scenic San Diego.' 'While there is no national or state database comparing the number of billboards in cities and regions, San Diego County has far fewer billboards than other parts of California and most other major cities across the nation', Wilson said last week. 'Laws passed decades ago capped the number of billboards in the city of San Diego and most jurisdictions countywide,' she said. 'As much as they try, it’s been virtually impossible for outdoor advertisers to blanket our streets and freeways with garish ad displays.'"
San Diego’s sign ordinance has endured for 40 years through multiple court challenges and a battle all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The City Council first enacted a billboard ban targeting signs near freeways in 1962. After years of study and debate, in 1972 the Council enacted a city-wide ban on off-site advertising signs to phase out billboards. More litigation followed, ultimately reaching the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 1981 struck the ordinance but gave guidance on how it could be amended to be constitutional.
Scenic San Diego is an all-volunteer coalition of concerned citizens and organizations who favor strong sign ordinances and oppose billboards and other advertising sign proliferation.