My attention was immediately piqued when Doug Smith, the chairman of Citizens for a Scenic Reno, sent out an e-mail regarding Senate Bill 265.
You probably know that Citizens for a Scenic Reno is the group behind the Reno ballot initiative, R-1, that passed in November prohibiting the construction of new billboards within the city limits. You probably don’t know much about SB 265, which is summarized as such: “Requires city or county to pay just compensation or authorize alternative location for certain structures or uses of property under certain circumstances.”
What do Citizens for a Scenic Reno and SB 265 have in common? Well, apparently, SB 265 is designed to give billboard owners the most possible flexibility and potential for profitability, if they have to operate under such restrictions as those passed in R-1.
But it’s hard to tell that from SB 265, because it never even mentions billboards, and because it is written in a language that appears to be English but may as well be Swahili for purposes of understanding.
For your befuddlement, here are the first three paragraphs from SB 265:
1. If a city or county, through the adoption, operation or enforcement of any ordinance or code, prohibits the continuation of a nonconforming use or requires the removal of a nonconforming structure, the city or county shall:
(a) Pay just compensation for the loss of the nonconforming use or nonconforming structure to the owner of the nonconforming use or nonconforming structure and to the owner of the real property upon which the nonconforming use or nonconforming structure is located; or
(b) Authorize the owner of the nonconforming use or nonconforming structure to relocate the nonconforming use or nonconforming structure to a site that is determined by the city or county and the owner of the nonconforming use or nonconforming structure to be a comparable site, if the relocation will not materially damage the owner of the real property upon which the nonconforming use or nonconforming structure is located.
After reading this seven times and banging my head on the wall, this is what I’ve figured out: If passed, SB 265 would make it so cities and counties, if they chose to get rid of a structure (such as a billboard) that isn’t within legal specifications, would have to compensate the owner for that structure, or allow the owner to move the structure elsewhere. Further down, the bill states that amortization—meaning that the structure’s use is phased out over time—would no longer be allowed.
When it’s revealed that about three-quarters of the billboards in Reno are currently nonconforming, this bill suddenly becomes scary. When it’s revealed that, as Smith points out, this bill was drafted by folks from the Nevada Outdoor Media Association, the bill becomes really scary.
This means that, if the bill is passed, the city will not be able to enforce its codes without either forking out taxpayer dollars or allowing the billboard companies to move their boards to better, possibly more profitable locations. The city would essentially lose control over the situation—the number of billboards would remain the same, but the locations of the billboards would not remain the same.
So much for local control and the will of the voters, who overwhelmingly passed R-1.
“I see this as an end run,” Smith says. “It would make [R-1] a paper tiger.”
Of course, at first glance, it’s hard to believe that this bill has anything to do with billboards—until you read it 17 times and put two and two together. Talk about attempts to deceive the public …
Anyway, a hearing on the bill was scheduled for March 21, which was after our press deadline, in front of the Senate Committee on Government Affairs. We’ll keep you posted on how things turned out.