No means no

Charles Swezey is a board member of Scenic Nevada. For more information, contact Scenic Nevada at www.scenicnevada.org.

The subject of billboards in Reno has been quiescent for the past nine years. However, in the election of 2000, things were anything but serene. What happened was a group of Reno citizens called “Citizens for a Scenic Reno” (now Scenic Nevada) organized and conducted a petition drive to place the issue of billboard proliferation on the ballot that year.

The “no more new billboards” amendment to the Reno City Code was approved by a substantial majority of Reno voters in the November election. This effort prevailed in spite of a no-holds-barred effort on the part of the billboard companies and their lobbyists to defeat the measure. The new amendment, known as R-1, was challenged unsuccessfully by the sign companies all the way to the Nevada Supreme Court.

The effect of R-1 was to fix the number of billboards allowed in the city to the number up and running in 2000, which, according to city officials, was 286.

But advances in billboard technology are about to hand us a new challenge in the form of light-emitting diode (LED) billboards that can accommodate many advertising customers at the same time, and by so doing these signs can and do yield tremendous profits. This is possibly the biggest thing that’s hit the billboard industry in its hundred or so years of existence. According to Inc.com, if you were in the outdoor advertising business, you could expect to earn on average $1,000 to $2,000 a month from each traditional billboard that cost you about $100,000 to erect. However, in the case of the latest light emitting diode (LED) or digital billboards, one could expect to earn about $14,000 every month from that single structure! This is made possible because up to eight different advertisers can be accommodated in the same day. Yes, the construction costs are high—like about $400,000 for each new sign structure. Of course, the cost would be substantially less if you are converting an existing billboard to a digital billboard. These figures may not be exact, but they are probably in the ballpark. The important point is that the return on investment for these new digital billboards is huge, roughly seven to 10 times that of the traditional roadside billboard. All this translates into immense profits for the off-premise billboard industry. And guess what? Company reps and hired guns have recently been in town seeking approval from city officials to begin construction of these new billboards. The question now is, what should we do about this situation?

Scenic Nevada’s position regarding digital billboards is that they constitute new construction and, therefore, are not allowed by Question R-1, which reads as follows: “The construction of new off-premises advertising displays/billboards is prohibited, and the City of Reno may not issue permits for their construction.”

For all of you out there who share our disdain for more billboard blight, the time is now to make your voices heard. Contact Mayor Bob Cashell or your Reno City Council representative as soon as you can.