Two Steps Back – No on Prop D in SF

Thanks to Anti-Advertising Agency’s Legal Analyst, Paul S., for weighing in on this controversial ballot measure in San Francisco…

San Francisco has a proposition on the ballot today which seeks to blow a huge hole in the city’s municipal billboard ban. Proposition D, if passed, will allow high definition electronic billboards to be placed on buildings down Market Street between 5th and 7th Streets. The proposition would allow building owners to avoid two anti-billboard ordinances. The first, passed in 1970, banned advertising along the downtown portion of mid-Market, and the other, passed in 2002, which banned new billboards throughout the city.

What Proposition D would allow, is a ribbon of huge lighted billboards to wrap all the way down Market Street. The proposition is very loosely worded, and essentially would allow unregulated erection of the billboards. Prop D’s language says the billboard can be “flashing, blinking or rotating” with the only limitation that they cannot rotate or spin faster than once every four seconds. The signs can also be located 25 feet above the roof-line… and therefore visible throughout the city. Also notable is that there is no limit to the number of billboards which could be erected.

The purported idea behind the proposition is that the new massive electronic billboards will somehow magically re-vitalize an area of the city that has been blighted for decades. How, is not exactly clear. Supporters (i.e. building owners) say that the billboards will drive foot traffic and increase business. However, what is more likely is that the eyesores will drive people away from the already depressed area. Make no mistake, Proposition D is not about re-vitalizing Market Street, it is about enriching the current slum-lord owners of the dilapidated buildings in the area. Currently, a single printed sign on a Market street kiosk sells for $210,000 a month. Just estimate the income from an electronic flashing and blinking 500 square-foot billboard, visible throughout the city.

What is clear, is that the city leaders have completely run out of ideas. A majority of the city council has endorsed the proposition, as has the mayor. The city previously spent over a decade on a redevelopment plan for the area, which was stymied by gridlock in city hall. There is no doubt that the area targeted by Proposition D is the definition of urban blight. Porn theaters, drug dealers, methadone clinics, and flop houses line the streets.

The situation on Market Street is a serious urban problem. There appears to be such a dearth of ideas coming from city hall, that a ludicrous proposition like this one actually can get serious support. If this proposition passes, the city will most certainly be poorer, and the slum-lords will most certainly be very, very rich. And there’s no provision for removing the signs when the effort fails.

Let’s hope Proposition D goes down in flames at the ballot box today.

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One Comment

  1. Jess says:

    Voted down (barely)!

    What irked me most about this was the misleading framing – proponents really tried to make it seem like funds would go to indie arts organizations, a complete misrepresentation of the language of the proposition. So glad this one failed.

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