Port Commission Considers New Bay Bridge Billboard Deal

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Tuesday November 27, 2007

A proposed deal between the Port of Oakland and CBS Outdoor to put a second 20-by-60-foot billboard near the Bay Bridge Toll Plaza has sparked opposition from at least one local environmental group, but the Oakland city councilmember who opposed the first billboard says she lacks the power to prevent it. 

“My position on this issue has been consistent,” Councilmember Jane Brunner said by telephone this week. “I’m not thrilled about people seeing a barrage of billboards along I-80 as they enter the City of Oakland from the Bay Bridge. I believe that all billboards put up on city property should go through a careful review by City Council, and that includes a review of the financial agreements. But I lost that vote when it came up before City Council, and I haven’t yet been able to convince a majority of councilmembers of my position.” 

If approved by the port’s board of commissioners at its Dec. 4 meeting, the amended agreement will allow CBS to build the second billboard some 500 feet before the first on the right-hand side of I-80 leaving the toll plaza. Payment to the port will be the same as for the first billboard: $157,500 per year. 

Clear Channel also owns a billboard in the vicinity. 

The Port Commission’s Dec. 4 meeting is scheduled for 2 p.m. at the port headquarters near the ferry terminal on the far western end of Jack London Square. 

CBS’s original toll plaza billboard raised considerable controversy when it was installed earlier this year because it included an electronic display that some observers said interfered with night driving. The permit application for the second billboard does include an electronic display, but instead CBS has proposed “a traditional double-sided backlit structure.” 

The original billboard agreement also included a side deal between CBS and then-Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown for a $6 million contribution from the billboard company to Brown’s heavily subsidized Oakland School for the Arts Charter school. 

Consideration of the amended Port-CBS agreement was originally scheduled for the Port Commission’s Nov. 6 meeting, but was pulled at the request of Port Executive Director Omar Benjamin. 

Waterfront Action Executive Director Sandy Threlfall spoke briefly in opposition to the proposed second CBS toll plaza billboard at the commission meeting, even after the item was pulled, and later expanded on her remarks by telephone. 

“I don’t think billboards belong on the city’s waterfront,” Threlfall said. “In addition, the concern I have is that the East Bay Regional Park District is planning a park in the area that will be overlooked by the new billboard. How many parks do you know of that have billboards over them?” 

Threlfall said that the port’s wetlands properties are ceded to the port by the State of California in trust, “and should be used for wetlands trust purposes only.” Saying that billboards do not fit that use, Threlfall said, “Every time they use this land for non-trust purposes, the public loses access to a treasured public asset.” 

Brunner, chair of the council’s Community and Economic Development Committee, originally tried to assert city control over the placement of billboards on port property in 2005, but her proposal for City Council approval of port billboards lost in her own committee that summer on a 1-3 vote (Councilmembers Henry Chang, Larry Reid, and Ignacio De La Fuente voting against Brunner’s proposal). 

In September 2005 Brunner tried again, winning council approval for council talks with the port “towards a negotiated agreement on regulating outdoor advertising in the port area.”  

However, no memorandum of understanding between the port and the city was ever finalized and signed, and the port retained control over the placement of billboards on port property.