I agree with former Mayor Roberta Fonzi who said she didn’t think those giant billboards were an asset to Atascadero.
I opposed those billboards when they were inserted into Atascadero by Carlton Hotel owner David Weyrich about the time his hotel/restaurant was being completed at Traffic Way and El Camino Real.
There are three of them spaced between the southern and northern city limits on the east side of Highway 101. In addition to advertising The Carlton Hotel, the large signs have often advertised out-of-town businesses, which isn’t much of a benefit to Atascadero, a town that’s already struggling to stem the tide of the loss of retail tax dollars.
When the trend in America was to eliminate billboards, Atascadero’s leaders welcomed them — gigantic ones that are offensive because of their size.
The city allowed the freeway-oriented signs even though the local sign ordinance prohibits billboards. In fact, a billboard is first on the list of prohibited signs.
Of course, there are ways around existing ordinances, especially when those who want them have the means to come up with reasons that exceptions are “justified.”
In this instance, a case was made that civic groups and downtown businesses would benefit from the 40-foot-by-3-foot message at the bottom of those large signs. But they don’t make much of an impact as you drive by at 65 mph. And anyone not residing here is not going to care about a “local” message anyway.
Since the council originally approved the billboards eight years ago, local businesses and nonprofit groups were supposed to get their message on the lower portion of the board on each of the sides.
Ownership of the billboards has shifted, and the new owners are negotiating with the city to make some changes that, frankly, would give the city one whole billboard for its own use while giving up the smaller “tag” messages.
In fairness, the owners, James E. Smith and Clifford Branch, would pay for the city’s first sign. After that, the city would be responsible for the costs associated with changing the sign message.
One of the uses of Redevelopment Agency money is supposed to go to eliminating blight in a community. I think three monstrous freeway billboards artificially inserted into this beautiful rural setting constitute blight.
Even Mayor Tom O’Malley suggests that two billboards would be better than three.
I think this is the time to consider reducing the number of billboards along the Atascadero freeway corridor.
Lon Allan has lived in Atascadero for nearly four decades. His column appears on the Local page every Tuesday. He can be reached at 466-8529 or email@example.com.