UPDATE: La Mesa City Council to Drop Digital Billboard Proposal Following Citizen Opposition
December 11, 2023
Rendering of proposed digital billboard. Credit: Clear Channel Outdoor, La Mesa City Records

UPDATE 12/13/2023: In a unanimous decision on Tuesday, December 12, the La Mesa City Council voted 5-0 in opposition to a plan that would have installed new digital billboards along Interstate 8.

After months of vocal opposition from residents in La Mesa, CA, the controversial proposal to introduce digital billboards to the city may be officially abandoned. The La Mesa City Council is set to meet on Tuesday, December 12, where Mayor Mark Arapostathis and Vice Mayor Laura Lothian are expected to present a statement attached to the agenda, expressing their decision to scrap the initiative.

The proposed digital billboards, spearheaded by Clear Channel Outdoor, aimed to generate advertising revenue to support the city’s police, fire department, and arts programs. Positioned near Grossmont Center within view of Interstate 8, the billboards became a point of contention for locals who argued against their installation.

The City Council had previously created a subcommittee led by Councilmembers Jack Shu and Patricia Dillard to explore the benefits and drawbacks of digital billboards. The subcommittee found various issues, including concerns raised in studies indicating that digital billboards could lead to increased traffic accidents.

In the statement attached to the upcoming agenda, Mayor Arapostathis and Vice Mayor Lothian acknowledge the substantial citizen commentary and careful evaluation of the matter. They deem the placement and installation of digital billboards in La Mesa inappropriate at this time and propose redirecting staff to terminate the Request for Proposal (RFP) and all related actions immediately.

The digital billboard proposal faced opposition not only from residents but also from the new owners of Grossmont Center, Federal Realty. The company expressed concerns about the potential negative impact on the shopping center’s marketability, stating that the proposed billboards could dominate drivers’ attention.

The journey of the proposal included a 2-3 decision against moving forward on July 25, followed by a surprising comeback during a Sept. 26 meeting where the City Council voted 4-1 in favor of considering digital billboards as a means to fund public art and public safety.

However, the renewed support was met with intensified opposition from residents, as evidenced by the dozens who attended subsequent City Council meetings and a petition initiated on Nov. 21. The petition, gathering 463 signatures, emphasized safety concerns, fears of nighttime visibility issues, and the potential eyesore presented by the digital billboards.

Notably, Councilmember Laura Lothian, originally open to the idea as a means to fund public art projects, cited the overwhelming citizen opposition as the driving force behind her ultimate decision to oppose the proposal.

“I’m actually tickled pink that the citizens expressed their outrage, they organized and they made a difference. And if they had not done this, we would have electronic billboards,” said Lothian.

The fate of the digital billboard proposal will be decided in the upcoming City Council meeting, where citizens and council members alike await the final decision on this divisive issue.