“Ban pot billboards? Let’s give all giant signs the boot,” reads the headline on a recent Tribune editorial. Highlighting the editorial is a photograph of the Highway 101 billboard in Atascadero advertising Diamond Marijuana.
At least one other Diamond Marijuana billboard imposes on local Highway 101 travelers. One of these, locally owned by a prominent developer-businessperson, dominates the landscape at the base of the KSBY hill property south of the Los Osos Valley Road interchange. Protect Scenic 101 (PS101) has encouraged the landowner to consider a scenic conservation easement that would confer income tax advantage to the landowner while prohibiting billboards.
Many recall the Diamond Adult World billboard from several years ago. Although a particular billboard advertisement might be offensive to most, content basically cannot be controlled locally.
A landowner suggested to PS101 that the county should incentivize retirement of billboards by a property tax benefit. Another county opportunity for eventually eliminating billboards is to pursue a California scenic highway designation that would restrict billboard maintenance. The premise is that unmaintained billboards would fall.
On Dec. 13, the Board of Supervisors will meet to prioritize work projects of the Department of Planning and Building. PS101 advocates including county preparation of an application for Highway 101 scenic highway status, focused for expediency on Atascadero through Pismo Beach. In addition to splendid scenery, the county and the cities of SLO and Pismo Beach already have General Plan policies supporting a 101 Scenic Highway.
Benefits of a California scenic highway include:
▪ Scenic highways are distinguished on maps and promote tourism essential to our local economies.
▪ Scenic highway designation is necessary for highway beautification grants.
▪ Scenic highway designation makes the county eligible for grant funding to enhance the visual character of highway corridors, such as that utilized by SLOCOG to construct “gateway” signs for Cambria, Cayucos, and San Luis Obispo along Scenic Highway 1.
▪ The orange poppy signs along a scenic highway engender community pride and support for nearby open space assets.
▪ Billboards are restricted from maintenance and, therefore, eventually fall.
As lost tax income looms from the closure of the Diablo Canyon Power Plant, our economic well-being dictates measures to enhance tourism income, such as a Scenic Highway designation for 101.
At a minimum, last year’s inclusion of seeking scenic highway status as a “future priority” of county planning and building should be retained.
It’s important to consider that our county competes for tourists with Santa Barbara County, which recently achieved scenic highway status for a coastal portion of Highway 101. Also, Santa Barbara County eliminated most billboards and has just a couple now. Ventura County also eliminated its billboards and Monterey County eliminated the majority.
It would require a minimal investment for an intern, working under the supervision of a county planner, to prepare an application for scenic highway status for a portion of 101 in San Luis Obispo County. That’s something the Board of Supervisors must recognize.
Sherri Danoff is the coordinator of Protect Scenic 101.