LONG BEACH — The billboard facing the Artesia Freeway does not look like much. It's blank.
But it sits near the point where the 91 Freeway connects with the Long Beach Freeway. And Vice Mayor Warren Harwood fears that the new sign poses "a serious safety hazard" because it distracts drivers.
To prevent similar signs from being erected, the City Council voted 6 to 3 this week to impose a 120-day emergency moratorium on billboards facing the Artesia Freeway. But the council turned down a much broader proposal that would have placed a moratorium on all new billboards facing all the freeways in the city.
The decision not to freeze freeway billboard construction pleased representatives from three outdoor advertising companies at the council meeting Tuesday.
Edward Dato of Patrick Media Groups Inc. told the council that few choice spots are left for new freeway billboards. He asked that the council--instead of adopting a citywide moratorium--approve Harwood's request for a temporary freeze on new signs facing the freeway in his district.
"I don't believe it is necessary to have an urgency ordinance" applying citywide, Dato said. Representatives from Gannett Outdoor Co. and Regency Outdoor Advertising also attended the meeting. Regency owns the new sign Harwood objected to on the 91 Freeway. Since it is already in place, it would not be affected by the moratorium, city officials said.
Council members Evan Anderson Braude, Tom Clark and Jan Hall voted against the moratorium.
"I don't like doing moratoriums because they indicate a problem," Clark said, adding he sees no difficulties with Long Beach billboards. Moratoriums "send out a wrong message" to the business community, Clark added.
Pending final approval next week, the temporary moratorium would forbid signs within 1,000 feet of the 91 Freeway, Harwood said. The billboard he objected to is less than 50 feet from the freeway, according to Zoning Administrator Dennis Eschen, who was instructed by the council to study the city's sign law and recommend possible changes.
City Changed Law
Five years ago, the city tightened its law governing signs after a flurry of mini-billboards went up in the city. The council voted to impose for the first time a spacing requirement, ordering 300 feet between signs, Eschen said.
At the same time, the council also prohibited large-size billboards on city streets. But that law did not affect freeway billboards, Eschen said.
In 1981, when it began studying changes in its sign law, the council had considered a moratorium. But a City Council delay in approving a moratorium allowed an outdoor advertising firm to obtain all of the building permits it needed for 31 small billboards.
During the past five years, Eschen said, few new signs have gone up. But a jump from one additional, large freeway billboard in 1986 to three in 1987 "may indicate more applications will come in soon," he told the council.
The amendments Harwood has suggested and Eschen's staff is studying would require 500 feet between a residential area and a billboard facing the freeway. The city's law now requires a 45-foot buffer zone between billboards and residential zones. But not all homes are zoned residential, so some billboards may not even have that 45-foot space between them and houses, Eschen said.
City officials say they are not sure how many billboards have been erected in Long Beach. "Nobody has counted them," Eschen said.
"They've been built over 50 years and they're scattered all over the city," said Eschen, who estimated the number at 2,000 and guessed the number of freeway billboards at about 50.
The signs require both zoning and building permits. Before the 1980s, however, they only required building permits. And to check how many there are now would require getting the address of each one and going "up and down every street" to verify their existence, according to Eschen.
"Most (signs) in the city are very old," Eschen said.