Phil Matier: Bay Bridge Billboards Stir Debate In Oakland
OAKLAND (KCBS) – Plans to install more bright digital billboards to light up the Oakland side of the Bay Bridge remain a touchy subject in the city.
There were already billboards in place to greet eastbound drivers coming off the bridge. Then, two years ago, the Oakland City Council approved development plans for the abandoned Oakland Army Base, and those plans included more LED-screen billboards to be implemented near the toll plaza and along the connector to southbound Interstate 880.
But Scenic East Bay, a group of billboard opponents formerly known as Make Oakland Beautiful, call the signs an eyesore, distraction, and traffic hazard for drivers. The group has held protests to stop the signs from being put in place, and also has an online petition on its website for Caltrans to deny applications for the billboards.
The billboards have been a longstanding issue in both Oakland and Sacramento political circles. The Oakland Coliseum was struggling with debt from its renovation for both the Raiders and A’s. As a way to bring in more money, former state Senator Don Perata, working with Foster Media, a billboard company based in Oakland, and the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority, took the issue to Sacramento, helping to change the law, which allowed the first bright signs to go in.
At issue is the fact that now, a portion of revenue from the proposed new signs would go to fund a job-training program in Oakland at a modern logistics center, planned for the Army base. Many environmentalists and others concerned about the billboards claim they violate state and federal laws and wonder if this is just the beginning, and more bright signs are to come.
Back in 2007, federal officials looked into the dealings of Perata, asking the Port of Oakland to turn in thousands of pages of documents detailing how the deals for the billboards got done.
You can hear Phil Matier’s comments Monday through Friday at 7:50am and 5:50pm on KCBS All News 740AM and 106.9FM.