The scenic quality of a great many highways in California is under a new threat.

The Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight urges everyone to oppose AB 3168 on Outdoor Advertising Displays, which is now before the State Senate Appropriations Committee. This bill, according to State Senate analysis, “makes it easier to permit an advertising display near state highways.” We do not need more visual clutter alongside our highways.

Currently the law bans billboards alongside state highways that have been landscaped with ornamental plantings. AB 3168 would change the definition of the term “landscaped” so that fewer areas qualify. In the new definition, landscaping in the form of ornamental planting must be at least 20 feet wide; narrower ornamental plantings would no longer count as landscaped. Likewise, under this bill, plantings that cover sound walls would no longer count as landscaping. So this bill would open up a great many new areas to billboards alongside our highways. There is also a provision to allow taller signs, which are more visible from longer distances.

What’s worse, the bill makes no distinction between digital signs, which change every 8 seconds, and old-fashioned static billboards. This vagueness plays into the hands of the sign companies, who would love to change most roadside billboards into digital signs. This bill makes such conversion easier. Digital signs, again according to Senate analysis, are very lucrative: “Revenue from a digital billboard is 8-10x higher than a static billboard, which can mean $500,000 annually.” The sign companies will reap all of the increased profits from this invasion of the public’s eyeballs, and our roads will become less safe because of the increased driver distraction.

Simply put, there is no good reason to support this bill unless you own stock in a sign company. Or you get campaign contributions from sign companies. This bill has had some success in the Assembly already, before the Coalition learned of its existence. The question now is this: Will the Senate listen to the sign lobbyists, or to the people?

Send e-mails to the Staff Director of the State Senate Appropriations Committee, Mark McKenzie,
The bill is scheduled for a hearing before that committee on August 6, a few weeks from now, so now is the best time to express your views. Ask that your message be placed in the file.
Use the subject line AB 3168: Oppose. Personal information about roadways near where you live or where you have travelled would be helpful to include, because this is partly an effort to save landscaped roads from visual pollution.

Make clear your opposition by covering the following points, which can be copied and pasted into any message:

The bill narrows the definition of a landscaped highway so that many more roadside locations now qualify for a new sign.
The bill makes it easier for sign companies to convert roadside billboards to digital signs, which are far more ugly and also less safe according to many studies. It also allows for taller signs, which bring even more visual blight because of increased visibility.
We must defeat this bill to limit billboard blight along our highways.