Santa Clarita City Council members voted 3-1 to approve a Metro billboard deal Tuesday after several hours of discussion Tuesday at City Hall.
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Santa Clarita City Councilman TimBen Boydston was the lone vote against the deal. Mayor Laurene Weste recused herself from the vote because she owned property within 500 feet of more than one billboard location.
The plan calls for Metro to help in the City Council members’ desire to remove more than 100 billboard faces throughout Santa Clarita, in exchange for six large electronic billboard faces — two adjacent to Highway 14, and one next to Interstate 5.
Metro is agreeing to contract with a company to pay for the construction of the six 14-foot by 48-foot billboard faces 65 feet in the air, agreeing to share a portion of the revenue with the city, as well as a small portion of peak advertising time. Metro is responsible for acquiring all permits needed for the project, as well as paying for the old billboards to be taken down.
More than two dozen spoke out opposed to the billboard proposal, similar to the turnout of the last two meetings on the subject.
Related article: Santa Clarita City Council OKs Metro Billboards For Second Reading
Those against the plan complained about a lack of transparency behind the formation of the contract, the timing of the deal and the fact that the plan trades one “blight” for another.
The three 50-year leases on the new electronic billboards could generate up to a combined $200 million over the entirety of the 50-year span, with the city expected to receive about $400,000-600,000 each year. The city also receives a guarantee of a small portion of peak revenue advertising space for Santa Clarita officials to promote civic concerns, issues and causes.
The city of Santa Clarita created a website in December to promote the deal; however, some including City Councilman TimBen Boydston, felt the city was not being totally up front with residents.
“I have more questions than I have an honest assessment,” said Minerva Williams, a Santa Clarita resident who spoke during public comment. Sulphur Springs School District governing board member Ken Chase said while the city has been honest about the billboard plan, it’s also been misleading.
Those in favor of the Metro deal cited support of moving the billboards from throughout Santa Clarita to closer to the edge of town.
“(The Soledad Canyon Road corridor) looks terrible, and I support this reduction and relocation agreement for one major reason,” said longtime Santa Clarita resident Richard Green. “When I drive down Railroad Avenue, it’s scum — we’re running a profitable well run city here.”
Boydston took particular issue with a concern about the zoning in the Norland Road site.
The area where one of the new Highway 14-adjacent electronic billboards would be located is part of the city’s Open Space Preservation District –however, the city agreeed to change the zoning for an 0.8 acre parcel to create a Billboard Overlay Zone as part of the deal.
Boydston questioned whether legal concerns could arise with this aspect of the agreement, noting a change of zoning could be considered “spot zoning,” which is unfavored by CalTrans officials.
“I think you can make arguments both ways (on the zoning), and the ultimate determiner is CalTrans,” said Santa Clarita city attorney Joe Montes.
A CalTrans spokeswoman said several factors are taken into account in the determination of spot zoning: including the expressed reasons for the zoning change; the zoning for the surrounding area; the actual land uses nearby; the existence of plans for commercial or industrial developments; the availability of utilities (such as water, electricity, and sewage) in the newly zoned area; and the existence of access roads, or dedicated access to the newly zoned area.
“We look at each request on a case-by-case basis,” said CalTrans spokeswoman Judy Gish.
A Metro lawyer cited a San Bernardino case similar to Santa Clarita’s situation, in which the city prevailed, and the decision is currently facing appeals.
Regardless of whether spot zoning is approved, denied or OKed and then challenged in court, Santa Clarita faces no liability on the matter, due to the contract’s indemnity clause, Montes said.
The vote to OK the contract was followed by an agreement for Santa Clarita to purchase Edwards Outdoor Advertising for $1.3 million.
Edwards owns 47 billboards, and Santa Clarita bought the company to take down Edwards signs.
An emotional Edwards-Sanchez said she felt the deal wasn’t entirely voluntary, but she thanked the Santa Clarita residents who supported her.
“There’s been a lot of pressure to get the best deal for our family,” she said, noting the company was threatened with losing half of its income if the Metro deal went through and Edwards had no agreement in place with the city.
The negotiations were done in closed session, and city officials could not comment on the status, however the deal was expected to be presented to City Council at the next meeting.
“I am very firm in my thought process as it applies to this issue,” said City Councilman Bob Kellar, explaining his rationale for supporting the billboard plan.
There might be a lot of opposition in Council Chambers, Kellar said, however he felt the plan had the support of a “silent majority,” which Boydston mentioned earlier.
The meeting was preceded by a protest of about 100 residents who were opposed to the plan.
“I have heard people complain (about the billboards), ‘They would never have these billboards in Valencia,’” Kellar said, mentioning numerous discussions he’s had with Canyon Country residents. “And you know what? They’re right.”
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Source: Santa Clarita News