Comments pour in over digital billboard on SR 78

OCEANSIDE — The comment period for a study on a digital billboard to be installed on state Route 78 will close Jan. 20, but before that date opponents of the sign are working to get information out and bring comments in.

City Council approved allowing four electronic billboards on city property along Interstate 5, and routes 76 and 78 in 2012.

Council also adopted parameters for digital billboards on private property. Rules limit electronic billboards to the sizeable private property sites of Tri-City Medical Center and Ocean’s Eleven Casino with city approval. The casino talked with the city about installing a digital billboard in 2012, but has not pursued it further.

A group of local residents and Scenic San Diego have stood steadfastly against the billboards. California Department of Fish and Wildlife also objects to the SR 78 site.

Oceanside resident Kevin Brown said allowing one electronic billboard would open a Pandora’s box of more of the same beyond the four the city approved, or would incite possible lawsuits for denying signage free speech rights.

“They do not have a legal basis to limit it to four signs,” Brown said. “The best thing to do is don’t open that door.”

Brown described the planned billboard as a two-sided, 48-by-18-foot digital display that will stand 40 feet above the ground.

“It’s a massive structure,” Brown said. “It’s inappropriate for this area, which is a coastal community.”

Brown said another complexity with the proposed billboard site on SR 78 and Rancho Del Oro Drive is that it is designated as an easement for the planned Rancho del Oro off-ramp listed on the city traffic plan. He added he believes Ocean’s Eleven is waiting to see what happens with the Route 78 billboard, and will follow if it is approved.

Mayor Jim Wood said digital billboards are coming, and it is better for the city to set parameters.

The proposed billboard on Route 78 would share 20 percent of sign revenues with the city. Estimates in 2012 proposed the city could bring in $48 million over 25 years by leasing land for four signs.

Brown said the additional income is not worth the negative effects electronic billboards have on wildlife, driver safety and community character.

“It’s an eyesore to the community and surrounding area dedicated to open space,” Brown said. “It’s not right for the community.”

Brown said those opposing the digital billboard would request a full environmental review if the proposed billboard moves forward.

Councilwoman Esther Sanchez was the sole vote against electronic billboards in 2012.

Brown said newly elected Councilman Chuck Lowery and fellow council members have been contacted about residents’ concerns.

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