Electronic signs could soon run along Highway 101 in Burlingame if the city votes to move forward with a study looking into the feasibility tonight.
For the past several years, staff has been approached by purveyors of electronic media signs seeking city approval for installation along Highway 101. The city will decide if it wants to begin a three-month process to evaluate installing such signs along the freeway. It will evaluate the effect signs could have on the city, whether signs should be limited to private or public property, if there is a minimum financial benefit to Burlingame and if there are other public benefits and the maximum number of signs allowed prior to giving direction to staff on whether to proceed with a study, according to a staff report.
Councilman Jerry Deal said he also doesn’t have a definite stance on it now, but he would support such an item if it creates an asset for the city.
“I’m OK with it as long as it’s going to fund something that the city of Burlingame needs,” he said.
Many other councilmembers are still thinking over the item, including Councilman Ricardo Ortiz who said he doesn’t have a strong opinion on it yet. Currently, the city has received at least one digital sign proposal — for a privately owned site — and two inquiries from businesses interested in finding a location. Sign companies have put further proposals that involve one or a combination of potential public benefits, including: promotion of community events; reduced cost advertising space for local businesses, in particular automobile dealerships; and a dedicated revenue stream to the city in return for allowing installation of a digital media sign, according to the report.
Having done some reading and hearing presentations, Mayor Michael Brownrigg thinks it’s a question that’s right for council discussion.
“Cities always have to be aware of opportunities to bolster their balance sheets,” he said. “On the other side, there could be some downsides, so that’s what we have to discuss as a council.”
The process began Jan. 16 when members of the economic development subcommittee, made up of Brownrigg and Deal, asked staff to conduct an evaluation of the sign proposals received to date and to develop criteria to provide framework for a policy that could allow the erection of electronic media signs in limited locations of the city, the report stated.
Meanwhile, former councilman Russ Cohen said he thinks it’s all about fairness and location.
“For example, if an electronic sign is located in a place that’s inappropriate, it becomes a blight,” he said. “It might be more appropriate along Highway 101. Downtown kiosks are an appropriate place for electronic signs. It’s about where does it go and does it generate revenue that makes it worth the trade-off.”
If the city authorizes further study of the pros and cons of electronic media signs, staff recommends researching how other communities in the Bay Area are responding to digital sign proposals with respect to common criteria for evaluation, policies for approving signs on public or private property, business terms for agreements and how funds are used. Staff would also advise to conduct a web-based survey of the community to determine public opinion and/or also conduct public meetings once sufficient information has been acquired; identify any potential city of Burlingame-owned sites that meet the location criteria for digital billboards and infrastructure and evaluation based on traffic, visibility, Caltrans requirements and proximity to planned or existing digital billboards in other communities; prepare a map that shows potential sties; identify potential regional impacts; and conduct a legal review of any proposed models for permitting signs and/or leasing city property, according to the staff report.
The subcommittee wants to make sure the City Council would even be OK with the thought of having electronic media signs in the city, and if so, if there’s priority for them, said Community Development Director Bill Meeker.
Other nearby cities have considered such signs, including Belmont, Menlo Park, Palo Alto and Millbrae. Cities that currently have electronic media signs include East Palo Alto and San Carlos.
The City Council meets 7 p.m. tonight at City Hall, 501 Primrose Road, Burlingame.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105