A new proposal to resolve a conflict over electronic billboards that pitted advertisers against astronomers would allow the glowing signs in the Phoenix area while banning them from regions with clusters of world-class telescopes.
Observatory officials, attracted to Arizona for its generally dark night skies, have said they feared their telescopes’ vision would be blurred by light pollution if more electronic billboards are allowed around the state.
Meanwhile, the billboard industry said requiring it to dismantle its video display boards would harm both the industry and the 4,200 businesses that use the signs to advertise.
An astronomy industry study said it has $1 billion invested in the state, while the billboard industry said its clients employ 158,000 people.
A compromise resulting from talks between representatives of the two industries includes restrictions on where new electronic billboards can be located and a new statewide limit on operating hours for electronic billboards, said Rep. Bob Robson, R-Chandler.
“From the onset, both parties wanted to compromise, which is good. This will be a long-term solution in keeping two industries that are not necessarily totally compatible but need to survive,” Robson said.
A map released by Robert Johnson, a billboard industry representative, indicated the compromise would permit existing and new electronic billboards in the Phoenix area in south-central Arizona and much of southwestern Arizona while banning them from regions to the north, east and south.
“We get to do business in the zone and they get to do business outside the zone,” Johnson said. “It’s a compromise that we think allows both industries to exist and go about their business.”
The no-sign areas would include Tucson in southern Arizona and Flagstaff in northern Arizona. Both have clusters of major observatories.
Robson was the sponsor of a bill to legalize approximately 70 existing electronic billboards, nearly all of which are in the Phoenix area, following a 2011 court decision that ruled them illegal under a state highway beautification law.
However, Gov. Jan Brewer last month vetoed Robson’s bill, saying she wasn’t willing to jeopardize the observatories and the estimated 3,000 jobs they provide. However, she encouraged the sides to reach a compromise, and Robson said Brewer aides participated in at least part of the talks.
Robson says wording of the legislation to implement the compromise is now being prepared. He says efforts are under way to identify a bill that can be expanded or replaced to include the compromise.
The vetoed bill would have legalized the billboards but allowed local governments to have local laws restricting the nighttime light displays in order to protect dark skies needed by observatories.
Jeff Hall, director of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, confirmed that legislation to implement the results of the talks is being drafted. However, he declined to discuss the provisions pending agreement on the detailed language.
However, another observatory official said elements of the compromise outlined by Robson meets the concerns that observatories had in trying to negotiate a compromise with billboard industry representatives.
“That all sounds and resonates well,” said the other official, Paul Shankland of the U.S. Naval Observatory in Flagstaff.
Johnson said the compromise allows placement of new electronic billboards in the permitted zone. But the new ones would still be subject to local controls that could be more restrictive than those imposed by the state, Johnson said.
Also, the legislation would take effect immediately if approved by the Legislature and the governor, to head off any rush to erect additional signs outside the permitted zone, he said. “It was a good-faith effort on our part that we weren’t trying to pull a fast one.”
Normal bills do not take effect until 90 days after the end of the legislative session.
Article source: http://www.businessweek.com/ap/2012-04/D9U7DDF81.htmTags: Bob Robson, Robert Johnson, electronic billboards <BR/>