Year in Review: Future’s so bright

Early next year, most likely January 29, Development Services will report to Council on the City’s year-old digital-billboard pilot
, which gave two companies the right to erect 15 hi-def “variable message” signs along SA’s highways, including Scenic and Scenic Urban Corridors. The lion’s share of those went to Alamo homeboys Clear Channel Outdoor — primary pusher of digital signage here and abroad — and the company will likely return to City Hall next year for another round of signs to add to their existing dozen.

But the City’s status update is being assembled more like a middle-school science report than a federal study. In addition to calculating the square-footage of old vinyl faces retired for each new swath of digital, Development Services is required by the ordinance to evaluate the safety impact of the billboards, which they’re doing by comparing the number of traffic accidents around the signs during three-month periods before and after they were erected — an exercise that will likely raise more questions than it answers.

Clear Channel has had a successful 12-month run in San Antonio (they’ve locked in decade-long advertising contracts at the airport, the Henry B. and the Alamodome) despite sustained public criticism from the Conservation Society and Scenic San Antonio — perhaps not surprising for such a generous donor to the Mayor’s 2007 bond and 2008 term-limit initiatives* ($65,000) and at least one former Councilman/current County Commissioner ($8,000, including Officially Registered Friends of CC). Following the successful passage of the digital-billboard pilot program, Development Services decided to neuter the Electrical Supervisory Board, the citizens’ panel that had become the default public-protest ground for individual digital-sign permits, and Clear Channel lobbyists convinced the City to include a digital-billboard exception in the new Dark Skies ordinance designed to protect Camp Bullis’s nighttime training program.

The last two items telegraph Clear Channel’s intention to push for more of the lucrative signs, a move that won’t come as a surprise to anyone. “Whether it’s within the Scenic Corridor or otherwise, it’s a money-maker for them,” says District 7 Councilman Justin Rodriguez, the lone vote against the pilot program. He notes the billboards have only been in place for about five months, and suggests Council should wait until they’ve been shining down on San Antonio for a full year before trying to evaluate their impact. (Or, shoot, wait for the federal study due in 2009.) Our guess is, Clear Channel won’t tarry that long, even though last month’s extension and padding of City Manager (and, like Clear Channel Outdoor President Blake Custer, City of Phoenix alum) Sheryl Sculley’s contract means they’ll likely have a sympathetic ear long after Mayor Hardberger’s retired to his sailboat.

*This story was corrected. It originally reported that Clear Channel donated to the Mayor's 2008 venue-tax initiative.

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