Travelers can rejoice in the restoration of scenic views from Highway 101 of the Johnson Ranch, just south of San Luis Obispo’s city limits. The two billboards on the property have been removed.
Not only did the city have the foresight to purchase the ranch for its greenbelt around the city, it also had the resolve to ensure the billboards were removed by executing an agreement with CBS Outdoor, owner of the billboards.
Something we take for granted: Few billboards are along Highway 101 in the city of San Luis Obispo. Yet immediately beyond city limits, both north and south, a barrage of advertisements impose themselves upon otherwise scenic views. Between Avila Beach and Santa Margarita, there are 50 billboards.
New billboards are prohibited by both San Luis Obispo County and the city, and their general plans encourage removal of existing billboards. The rural “grandfathered” billboards are the focus of a group of local citizens, Protect Scenic 101 (PS101).
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PS101 recognizes that the county’s asset most treasured by residents — its scenery — is also its best tourist draw. Attractive scenery along Highway 101, SLO County’s main travel corridor, is blighted by billboards, whereas Santa Barbara County, our strongest tourism competitor to the south, virtually retired billboards along Highway 101, as have the other two Central Coast counties.
Vested interests might say that tourists need the information on the signs for eating and lodging venues. Maybe in the past, but today, travelers rely on publications or online sources with reviews. No longer do most billboards advertise goods and services located along the highway. Billboards, an outdated technology, annoy more than help.
PS101 is sensitive, however, to the financial concerns of landowners, sign companies and advertising businesses. That’s why it uses the word “retire” in its mission statement: “to retire the billboards within unincorporated SLO County’s Hwy. 101 view corridor.”
PS101 hopes to engage these vested interests in billboard removal. They, in turn, could benefit from compensations such as public recognition and tax deductions.
Billboards from the top of Cuesta Grade to the Avila Beach exit at San Luis Bay Drive are the initial focus of PS101. If you’re among those who’d like not to have advertisements forced upon you as you drive and who’d like to enhance scenic attraction for tourism, there are ways you can help: Endorse PS101’s mission as an individual or an organization and/or participate in PS101 meetings. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, or call 595-2208.
Together, we can create an even happier San Luis Obispo County.
Rosemary Wilvert of San Luis Obispo and Sherri Danoff of the Avila area are publicity chair and coordinator, respectively, for Protect Scenic 101, an informal local group formed to encourage the removal of billboards along Highway 101 in SLO County.