City Council to discuss possibility of banning electronic billboards atop vehicles

City of Santa Clarita City Hall. Cory Rubin/The Signal
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For some, digital rooftop advertising signs mean earning an extra buck. But for city officials, it means more distractions on the road.

After Tuesday’s regular meeting last week, the Santa Clarita City Council reached consensus in discussing the possibility of banning electronic billboards on auto roofs that display advertisements.

The topic was brought up by Mayor Marsha McLean, who said the city of Los Angeles is looking for support from multiple cities on the issue, following a motion by an L.A. City Council committee that would ban the signs.

In L.A., according to L.A. Councilman Bob Blumenfield, drivers have noticed a rise in digital billboards that are attached to taxis and rideshare company vehicles, such as Lyft and Uber.

The idea behind these signs is quite straightforward: Reach a larger audience of passengers and passers-by and help drivers make additional money while at work. Electronic billboards are just one example of multiple creative advertising methods used by entrepreneurs to transform vehicles into mobile marketers.

To some rideshare and taxi drivers, this option equals supplemental revenue as some businesses, including billboard company Firefly, pay drivers an estimated $300 per month to have a car-top electronic sign.

Local jurisdictions, such as L.A., and law enforcement agencies like the California Highway Patrol, have expressed that rooftop signs, often using digital LED technology, are not only a potential blight, but also pose a public safety hazard because they may reduce the visibility and effectiveness of emergency vehicle lights.  

State and local laws prohibit these signs in various cities but companies like Firefly have already disputed the regulations, saying a code for taxis allows for illuminated ads so long as the screens are small and lights are dim. Currently, L.A. is pushing to repeal the code.

But in Santa Clarita, there is no law that makes electronic billboards on moving vehicles an illegal act. The current ordinance, Municipal Code 12.84.020, prohibits only “… any person to park a mobile billboard advertising display on any public street or public lands in the city of Santa Clarita.”

McLean said at the meeting, “(W)e have an ordinance, but it doesn’t cover this particular problem with putting (lighted signs) on top of moving vehicles. Maybe we want to kind of get out in front of this and take a look at our existing ordinance and see if maybe we want to add a little more meat to it.”

When asked about the city’s current ordinances, City Attorney Joe Montes said he would look into other cities’ experiences with banning electronic billboards.

The City Council agreed to bring the matter up in the future but no specific date was set.

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