The California Senate Transportation Committee will vote Monday on a bill encouraging the relocation and preservation of billboards along landscaped freeways. Assembly Bill 1279 "would allow an advertising display which is being relocated to be placed on property adjacent to a landscaped freeway under specified conditions," and would allow billboard owners to trim or replace any vegetation that blocks motorists' views of their signs from a freeway. The Assembly passed this bill, and now the Senate should act in the public's interest and defeat it.
Taxpayers have paid for landscaping along the freeways for the past 30 years. Greenery not only makes the freeways more enjoyable for motorists but also helps combat smog by adding fresh oxygen to the atmosphere. Billboards currently are prohibited within 500 feet of a landscaped freeway, but AB 1279 would permit billboard owners to ask the California Department of Transportation to trim or replace vegetation up to 500 feet from their advertising displays at the owners' expense.
Public outcry has forced several amendments to the bill, weakening it somewhat, but the measure still threatens motorists with the prospect of billboards replacing landscaping on the freeways. Billboard lobbyists claim that their signs provide a public service, but more than 80% of billboards advertise liquor, cigarettes and airlines. Billboards on our landscaped freeways would be a public eyesore, not a public service.
The life of AB 1279 reflects the power that an industry can wield over our legislators. Its death in the Senate would reassure the public that somebody in Sacramento is checking that power.