RGJ Reno Gazette-Journal By Anjeanette Damon February 9, 2017
Reno, NV – Continuing a nearly two-decade fight over how to interpret a voter-approved ban on new billboards in the city of Reno, the council on Wednesday extended its moratorium on digital billboards for another year.
The council also halted the city’s practice of creating “banked billboard receipts,” which let billboard owners demolish an existing sign with a promise from the city that they could build it in a new location at a later date. Billboard owners have been saving up such credits with the hope of using them to erect digital billboards once the city’s moratorium expired.
Under an existing ordinance still on hold, billboard owners could trade between two and four of those “static billboard” credits for one digital billboard permit. Billboard sign owners had been saving up such credits with the hope of using them to build digital billboards once the city’s moratorium lifted.
In a small victory for billboard owners, the council voted to allow them to begin using their credits to build new boards. The city has 82 banked credits on its rolls.
Reno City Attorney Karl Hall warned the council could open the city up to a $31 million liability if it allowed those credits to expire because the moratorium kept being extended.
The billboard issue has divided the council. Councilwoman Neoma Jardon and Mayor Hillary Schieve both voted against extending the moratorium. Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus, Councilman Paul McKenzie, Councilwoman Naomi Duerr and Councilman Oscar Delgado voted in favor of extending the moratorium. Councilman David Bobzien claimed a conflict of interest and abstained from the vote.
Advocates from Scenic Nevada, the organization behind the voter-approved billboard ban in 2000, pleaded with the council to reject digital billboards and not allow banked receipts to be used. They argue voters approved the ballot initiative with the understanding no new billboards would be built in the city.
“If you don’t approve the moratorium today because the billboard industry objects, you would be breaking trust with the people who elected you,” Scenic Nevada’s Lori Wray said, describing digital billboards as “intrusive energy hogs.”
Representatives from the billboard industry, as well as small business owners who advertise on billboards asked the council to find a common middle ground rather than extend a blanket moratorium. They argue the total number of billboards wouldn’t increase under the banking system, remaining true to the 2000 vote.
Sev Carlson, representing national billboard company Lamar, said the industry has been relying on the ordinance passed in 2012 that created the credit system for digital billboards as well as restricted zones within the city where they would be allowed.
Extending the moratorium, Carlson said, “exposes the city to liability, but it also exposes the city to a culture that isn’t good for business.”
Brekhus, who worked with Scenic Nevada before her election in 2012, asked her fellow council members not to be “motivated by fear” she accused the Reno City Attorney of creating by estimating lawsuits could cost the city up to $31 million. Jardon countered that it was the council’s responsibility to protect the taxpayers from exposure.