Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Oakland Army Base Billboards, Called Blight By Critics, Inch Closer To Reality

Vertical billboards near the Coliseum.
OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL//ARMY BASE | The contentious plan to erect billboards on the soon-to-be redeveloped Oakland Army Base is heading into its final stages. The council next week is set to approve a swap of a portion of the property later to be site of one of the 70-foot lighted billboards vehemently opposed by activists and residents of West Oakland.

The item was moved to the full council Tuesday by the Community and Economic Development Committee among a package of Army Base-related legislation. However, the billboard issue is likely to reignite opposition to the scoreboard-like structures critics call a form of urban blight.

Up to nine billboards, some featuring LED-emitting digital advertisements, will soon dot the landscape leading to through the former Army base to the Bay Bridge. Tuesday’s decision included a swap of land on 6.5 acres of property with the state Department of Transportation. The city, however, will maintain an easement on a portion of the land slated for one of the billboards. According to city officials, Oakland stands to gain between $500,000 and $1 million in annual revenue from its portion of the ad sales for the billboards.

Although city staff was transparent in its report of the land deal eventually paving the way for one billboard Tuesday, the labeling of the agenda item was not entirely clear to some activists. “Why can’t they just say this is about the billboard?” asked Oakland resident Margaret Gordon, a former Port of Oakland commissioner. Gordon told the committee if West Oakland’s struggling neighborhoods are good enough for the large-scale billboards; why not put some in more upscale parts of the city like the Montclair District?

“I, myself, have very mixed feelings,” said Council President Pat Kernighan of the billboards previously approved by the council last June. “But we already jumped off that cliff.” Councilmember Libby Schaaf called the billboards “a painful and difficult issue,” but reiterated a belief the area already partially aglow at night by neighboring lights at the Port can absorb the rotating commercial signs.

Both Schaaf and Councimember Larry Reid say they prefer billboard similar to the vertical signage seen by highway motorist along with the Oakland Coliseum. “I like Billboards," said Reid, "if they’re done like the ones at the Coliseum."


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