O’side may soon have its first digital billboard – U-T San Diego

— A proposal to build the first digital billboard along North County’s State Route 78 faces a critical vote this week.

The Oceanside City Council will decide Wednesday whether to enter into a 25-year land-use agreement with BGT Media that would allow the company to build a 40-foot tall electronic sign on city-owned property north of the freeway at Rancho del Oro Drive.

The deal would require the company to pay the city an annual minimum of $180,000 — with yearly increases tied the Consumer Price Index — or 25 percent of the sign’s gross revenues, whichever is greater.

Council members will also vote on a report — known as a mitigated negative declaration — that says the project wouldn’t significantly hurt the surrounding environment.

Tom Missett, a partner in BGT Media and a former newspaper publisher, said the deal would probably generate about $500,000 a year for the city — more than two-and-a-half times the minimum amount required.

“It’s the best land-lease deal they have ever negotiated and it uses no public services. No parking, no police and no water,” Missett said. “It’s a no-brainer.”

Critics of the billboard sign disagree. A group of local residents and a civic group called Scenic San Diego that opposes digital billboards say the project is a traffic safety hazard and a blight on the community.

“When you talk to people, most of them say they don’t want them (digital billboards),” said Oceanside resident Kevin Brown, who has been leading the fight against the billboard. “They are a blight and a distraction on drivers.”

The double-sided sign would have two 14 foot by 48 foot screens — one facing west and the other east — displaying illuminated digital ads that rotate every few seconds, from sunrise to midnight.

Under the proposed agreement, the city would get to advertise city-sponsored events and public safety announcements. Caltrans would be able to advertise traffic warnings and “Amber Alerts.”

“It’s going to be a community information center,” Missett said. “If there’s an Amber Alert, it’s going to go up right away. If there’s a crash on Interstate 5, we will post it. It’s more than just selling goods and services.”

The agreement would prohibit any false or misleading ads, as well as ads that promote tobacco, alcohol or illegal drugs.

In May 2012, the City Council amended its zoning ordinance to allow digital billboards on city-owned property. The city issued a request for proposals to develop and operate the signs along major freeways. The council approved negotiations with four companies, including BGT Media.

Critics say the proposal could open the city to expensive lawsuits from other digital billboard companies wanting to build signs in Oceanside. Brown said the billboard could interfere with a planned widening of state Route 78 to add carpool lanes in the highway in the future.

Missett dismissed those concerns, saying that opponents simply want to stop or delay the project because they don’t like the signs. The agreement with the city stipulates that if the property is needed in the future “BGT Media shall remove the sign at its cost.”

Two years ago in Vista, city officials canceled plans to build two digital billboards along state Route 78, one near Melrose Drive and another west of Sycamore Avenue, after determining that more extensive and expensive environmental studies were needed.

The billboards also generated strong opposition from residents in south Vista.

Oceanside’s council meeting set for Wednesday, 5 p.m., at City Hall, 300 N. Coast Highway.

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