Sign Of The Times: Why Maricopa County Deserves Kudos, Again

Maricopa County has been in the news a lot lately.  Some supporters of former President Trump don’t like the outcome of its 2020 election even though it appears to have been smartly and ethically performed by county officials.

Now, there’s something else Maricopa County deserves credit for: updating its billboard ordinance.  Certainly not as controversial or newsworthy as a hotly contested presidential election but the modernization of its code, just as numerous other Valley cities have done, is effective government at work. It couldn’t be any better timed, post-pandemic, for locally owned businesses, small businesses and charities which cannot afford to pay the often huge costs of static billboards. That’s because digital billboards typically rotate among 8 advertisers unlike old billboards which remains in place for at least a month with the same advertiser. This allows billboard companies to charge less for each digital advertiser.

Additionally, digital billboards turn off at night unlike most old, non-digital ones. Due to the ability to change digital ads remotely via a computer, unlike static billboards, digital billboards can be critical resources for public safety and criminal apprehension to get the word out about Amber Alerts, Silver Alerts, public health and other emergencies such as the posting of time sensitive information about local criminals. Even the FBI uses digital billboards to help pursue criminals.

Technology has improved so many facets of life. Billboards are no different. That’s why the numerous other cities mentioned, including Phoenix, have already updated their ordinance. So why wouldn’t Maricopa County?  It would be comparable to it still wanting to listen to 8-track tapes rather than Spotify.

Notably, the proposed, new ordinance would effectively prohibit new digital billboards and only allow the conversion of about 40-50 signs on limited lands governed by Maricopa County, not the Valley’s bevy of cities. Let us repeat: 40-50 signs in a county of 4.4 million people and 5.9 million acres! The primary purpose behind the ordinance change is to allow the conversion of EXISTING traditionally lit signs to digital; NOT to allow a whole bunch of new signs. In fact, the ordinance change would disallow the current practice allowing two arterial street billboards in close proximity to each other on intersecting arterial streets.

The limited opposition to the change comes in the form of maintaining Maricopa County’s dark skies and anti-competitive opposition stirred up by two of the three largest publicly traded billboard companies. But the modernization of the ordinance would do nothing to stop the preservation of the County’s dark skies. Indeed, it encourages it by requiring the lights to be turned off at 11 pm instead of left on all night as allowed for static billboards.

While we are on the subject… Seriously? Forty-fifty new digital signs that turn off at night are going to impact dark skies in the fastest growing and one of the largest counties in the nation?! If any city might adopt such a mentality it would be the liberal majority governing Phoenix.  Yet, they just adopted billboard modernization like Maricopa County’s because it is common sense.

As for concerns about darks skies, wouldn’t airports be among the most vocal? That digital billboards could impact their operations? Just the opposite. Indeed, Phoenix Sky Harbor has recently issued requests for new digital billboards there.

And where were the critics of Maricopa County’s modernization efforts when the State of Arizona just approved a massive expansion of casinos, gambling and sports books, especially in Maricopa County? Has anyone ever seen the light pollution from just one casino? It dwarfs even 40-50 digital billboards.  Let’s not let facts and logic get in the way of progress.

Fortunately, Maricopa County’s Board of Supervisors is governed by a stout group of individuals who know the difference between wisdom and wacky.