Crafting a policy for digital signs and billboards in Yakima hasn’t generated a lot of interest from the general public.
That was clear at last week’s Yakima Planning Commission study session, which attracted only a handful of attendees.
But some of the participants came to Yakima from as far away as Seattle, Tacoma and even Mesa, Ariz., eager to speak their minds about how to best craft regulations for digital signs and billboards.
For them, Yakima is tackling a subject that is part of a broader discussion and debate over the pros and cons of digital signs.
One side is concerned that electronic signs are eyesores that mar the natural landscape; the other side counters that the signs are important for commerce.
Last year, the Yakima City Council placed a moratorium on traditional and digital billboards, as well as on-premise digital signs, through this April while staff crafts a policy to improve the city’s streetscape while accommodating the needs of businesses. The area on North First Street is a particular focus.
The policy shaped in Yakima could “influence what happens in other parts of the country,” said Jill Jensen, a Tacoma resident who attended the study session.
Jensen is also a member of Scenic Tacoma, an offshoot of Scenic America, a grass-roots group that seeks to limit billboards and other types of signage that impact a community’s visual landscape.
What complicates signage policy is the degree of technical nuance involved.
For example, the amount of time between messages on a digital billboard — the frequency with which the advertisement changes — is different from the amount of motion or animation in the ads themselves. This technology can lead to visual pollution, argue those who favor strict signage regulation.
As a result, government officials have to be precise in their policies.
For Scenic Tacoma’s Jensen, that’s a good reason to limit the number of signs and billboards rather than regulate them.
“You can’t understand how complicated it becomes to enforce these signs,” she said.
But local sign company owner Larry Oliver feels there is too much emphasis on regulation and not enough on the benefits that digital signs provide for local businesses.
“There hasn’t been much positive (things said) about the digital signs in Yakima,” said Oliver, owner of Eagle Signs in Yakima.
James Carpenter, who spoke at the study session on behalf of the Northwest Sign Council, a regional trade association, said the industry can and has supported reasonable regulations in other communities.
Educating businesses and others in the industry about regulations is key, said Carpenter.
“It can be a challenge, but it is certainly doable,” Carpenter said in a phone interview with the Yakima Herald-Republic after last week’s meeting.
Meanwhile, Steve Osguthorpe, the city’s community development director, has already provided tentative recommendations to the Yakima Planning Commission.
The commission will continue discussion of the topic at its next meeting on Wednesday and will hold a formal public hearing Feb. 12.
Osguthorpe said he understands why the process in Yakima has generated attention elsewhere.
Communities “are looking at each other to see what’s working ... and what has been the result,” he said. “I think from that perspective, it can have broader implications.”
Ultimately, Osguthorpe is confident the planning commission will have enough information to make an informed recommendation in time for the City Council’s Feb. 18 meeting. The goal, Osguthorpe said, is to make sure the regulations are clear and to the point and can withstand any legal scrutiny.
“We need to be careful that whatever regulation we craft that we can articulate what we’re trying to regulate,” he said.
• Mai Hoang can be reached at 509-759-7851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.