Reprinted with permission from "La Mesa Fights Back Against Digital Billboards" by Scenic America.
On July 25, the City Council of La Mesa, California, took a significant stand against the installation of dual-sided digital billboards adjacent to Interstate 8 near the interchange with State Route 125. The proposed project by outdoor advertiser Clear Channel Outdoor faced strong opposition from councilmembers and the public alike, resulting in a three-to-two vote against proceeding with the plan.
La Mesa activists, Scenic America, and Scenic San Diego mobilized a grassroots advocacy effort in the days leading up to the vote. This effort resulted in a strong showing of opposition, which ultimately led to the City Council’s three-to-two vote to kill the proposal.
The contentious proposal to replace three static billboards with five digital billboards received intense scrutiny from the community. Councilmembers Jack Shu, Patricia N. Dillard, and Laura Lothian stood firm against the massive outdoor ads, citing concerns over the visual impact on the city’s landscape and potential distractions to motorists. Longtime city resident, Don Wood, voiced strong opposition to the plan, emphasizing the need to preserve the natural charm and identity of La Mesa.
The opposition included both those in and beyond La Mesa; telephone testimony by two concerned residents and a staggering 270 emails and letters sent to the Council also expressed dissent.
Clear Channel Outdoor’s proposal aimed to introduce two, dual-sided digital billboards near the I-8 and SR-125 interchange. One of these billboards was to be placed immediately west of the interchange, strategically targeting drivers merging from southbound SR-125 to westbound I-8 or from eastbound I-8. The second location was proposed less than half a mile west of the first, targeting motorists on both sides of I-8.
However, the proposed digital billboards faced several legal challenges. Currently, La Mesa’s city law prohibits digital billboards, making the proposal inherently illegal. Additionally, according to state regulations, digital billboards are not allowed on California-designated landscaped freeways, and Interstate 8 falls under this designation for nearly 100 miles from the ocean to the eastern border of San Diego County.
Surprisingly, Clear Channel Outdoor obtained a ruling from Caltrans last year, removing the landscape designation for a small section of Interstate 8 near the 125 interchange. This decision took the public by surprise, as it occurred without significant public awareness and only became possible because landscaping was previously removed when the interchange was constructed.
The City Council of La Mesa’s rejection of the digital billboard proposal represents a victory for activists in La Mesa, Scenic San Diego, Scenic America, and the community’s efforts to preserve America’s natural beauty and uphold local regulations against billboard proliferation. The overwhelming public opposition, coupled with legal challenges and concerns raised by councilmembers, led to a decisive three-to-two vote against the project. This decision reaffirms our commitment to maintain the unique identity of our country and protect its visual appeal while respecting existing laws and regulations.
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.