Driving along Pacific Coast Highway, it isn't hard to notice when you've arrived in Redondo Beach.
From the north, the first clue comes at Irena Avenue by way of Players Light cigarettes. From the south, the giveaway comes at Avenue G, this time courtesy of Benson & Hedges.
If you miss the tobacco giants, there are nearly two dozen other clues along the way: Honda, Wells Fargo, Delta Air Lines, Seagram's, Manhattan Village, Suzuki, Winston, KIIS, TWA, KMET--even the state of California--just to name a few.
The clues are billboards. But if Redondo Beach planning officials have their way, the massive outdoor advertisements soon will be on a different road: one leading to extinction.
Redondo Beach is one of just a handful of coastal communities in Los Angeles and Orange counties that allow off-site outdoor advertisements, as billboards are known in city planning jargon. In Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach's neighbor to the north, the signs are banned on Pacific Coast Highway and all other streets.
To the south, in Torrance, billboards are allowed but rarely approved, particularly along PCH, which is set aside in the city plan as a scenic corridor.
There are 36 billboards in Redondo Beach, most of which are clustered along a 2 1/2-mile stretch of PCH and two miles of Artesia Boulevard--two of the city's major commercial strips. Most of the outdoor advertisements are at least 300 square feet.
The billboards have long been considered a nuisance by some drivers, nearby homeowners and local merchants who say they are dwarfed by the oversized placards. City officials report that some of the billboards block sunlight and restrict ventilation of neighboring buildings, cast shadows on homes and pose safety problems on busy commercial streets.
'An Obscenity to Me,' Says Resident
"If there is a definition of pornography, you can call it a billboard," said Bruce Stool, a Redondo Beach resident who led a successful drive last year to block erection of a 300-square-foot billboard at Aviation Boulevard and Grant Avenue.
"They are an obscenity to me," Stool said in an interview. "They are an eyesore to the residents and a public distraction while you are driving down the street."
Representatives of the billboard industry, however, argue that the signs provide consumers with valuable advertising and public-service information and represent a legitimate form of free speech. They say billboards are an effective communication tool for businesses of all types, particularly in communities like Redondo Beach that have high traffic volume.
"The beach cities are a very desirable area for advertisers," said Bonnie Kingry, a representative of Foster & Kleiser, a Metromedia company with 16 billboards in Redondo Beach. "We have been in Redondo Beach for 30 years. We want to remain in the community."
Importance of Aesthetics
Yale Maxon, an environmentalist who has since the early 1950s fought the proliferation of billboards throughout California, said in a telephone interview this week from Berkeley that cities throughout the state have been moving toward fewer billboards in recent years.
"They affect safety, property values and aesthetics," said Maxon, who serves on the board of the Planning and Conservation League, an environmental group that lobbies for legislation in Sacramento. "Aesthetics is no longer a bad word. It is reasonable grounds for billboard control."
In beach cities, aesthetics has been particularly important, in part because of the value placed on unobstructed ocean views, well-kept neighborhoods and neat commercial strips designed to attract tourists and out-of-town shoppers, analysts say.
Redondo Beach city planner Kevin Callahan said cities like his have learned that they have to clean up their commercial areas if they are going to compete with other beach cities.
Dependent on Tourism
"It has come down to the realization that most coastal communities are dependent upon tourism, and in order to attract people, you have to be attractive," he said.
Callahan said the city is spending $1.5 million to place utilities underground on Artesia Boulevard, and there are similar plans for PCH. The city has also spent $150,000 over two years to improve facades and signs in commercial areas on both Artesia and Aviation boulevards.
"Coastal communities have generally recognized that billboards conflict with the character of their communities," wrote Randy Berler, a planning assistant who works with Callahan, in a report on billboards. "They dominate the skyline, add clutter and confusion along the commercial corridors, and compete with or obscure local business signs. . . . The minimal economic benefits and occasional public service announcements offered by billboards are heavily outweighed by the detrimental impacts to the city's commercial corridors."