For some, billboards are signs of economic growth while, for others, they are unwelcome eyesores. As outdoor advertising proliferates along the freeway north and south of Lovelock, county leaders said they may consider new restrictions on the number of freeway billboards.
Lovelock Valley farmer and Pershing County Planning Commissioner Carl Clinger is a long-time billboard opponent. In his opinion, the signs detract from the rural valley’s scenic value and generate little or no economic benefit for local businesses or tax revenues for the county.
“I brought that up to the planning commission in the past and also to the county commission,” he said. “That was back when there was a fraction of what there is today. I was pretty much told there was nothing we could do about it. Other people mentioned to me our current ordinances state that if you own commercial property, and no building, you can put up a billboard.”
New billboard restrictions could be costly for the county in the long run, Clinger pointed out.
“To declare all of a sudden that, no, you can’t put up a billboard is a ‘taking’ because they could have made money on their property,” he explained. “You would have to reimburse them for their loss and that reimbursement could be over 30 or 35 years. At $300 or $360 a month for 35 years, that’s a big chunk of money for every potential billboard.”
The 1965 “Highway Beautification Act” limits billboards to commercial and industrial areas and requires states to regulate the size, lighting and density of billboards (or lose federal highway funds). It also requires states and cities to compensate billboard owners if signs are removed.
So far, there are no electronic billboards in Pershing County. Clinger said he had to “slam on his brakes” after he was blinded by the night-time glare of a digital sign near the freeway in Sparks.
If it were up to him, “there wouldn’t be any billboards,” Clinger said last week. One of the few local billboards that is lit at night can be seen from his farm house that’s about eight miles away.
“Part of the Eisenhower highway beautification program was to eliminate all the billboards. They paid people for their billboards and tore them down and here we are letting them put them back up again,” he explained. “They’re going to put four more up south of town and there’s another three going in north of town. It’s going to be solid billboards.”
Some Lovelock business owners credit their billboards for attracting more customers off the freeway into local restaurants, stores and gas stations. Clinger said he isn’t sure that’s the case.
“I think billboard companies have convinced the business owners that it helps them,” he said. “Everybody carries a cell phone now and, if you’re looking for a restaurant, your cell phone will give you a dozen of them. You don’t have to look at a billboard.”
Clinger believes billboards, like cell phones, are also a distraction for drivers. He also pointed out that some of the billboards in Pershing County promote businesses outside of the county.
“When I brought this up a year and a half ago, they said, well, it’s just for local businesses. Right out here, we’ve got a billboard for a pot shop in Reno,” he said. “That isn’t a local business. If there’s a billboard that advertises a restaurant in town, I have a little more sympathy for that but, as I said, people are going to use their phones before they use a billboard.”
If more billboards are permitted, Clinger believes the county will sacrifice a valuable asset.
“We’ve got beautiful mountains around here. You can’t see anything but billboards,” he said. “Maybe they could limit them to one per half a mile but it’s already too late. We got them every hundred yards for four miles down the freeway. You are not going to get those people to remove them without paying through the nose and the county doesn’t have the money to do that.”
ARENA Outdoor Advertising has erected a number of billboards north and south of Lovelock. According to the ARENA website, outdoor signs are the oldest, most cost-effective advertising.
“Advertising on billboards gives you instant access to a captive audience while other forms of advertising require your prospective customer to tune into the right station, turn to the right page or visit the right website before they have a chance to see your ad...With billboards, however, the audience is automatically exposed to your message while simply travelling down the road.”
Billboards will be up for discussion at the next county commission meeting on September 4.
“At the next meeting, if we could have the current code as it’s written so we can look at it and then possibly make some suggestions and possibly then proceed to public hearing if we think we want to make any changes,” McDougal said as the board considered future agenda items.