881 Billboards Coming Down

Nearly 900 billboards in Houston are coming down as the result of an agreement between the city and Clear Channel. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson has more.

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This doesn't affect the huge billboards you see along freeways and major thoroughfares. Those are staying up. But small and medium billboards are coming down. Houston Mayor Bill White says he negotiated the deal with Clear Channel that removes 881 of these smaller signs.

"Like many citizens, I'd rather see fewer billboards than more. So the city policy has been to pursue whatever we can under law to get more billboards taken down faster. Houston's a beautiful city, but sometimes you can't see it for the billboard clutter."

Clear Channel will take down two-thirds of these billboards. Clear Channel dominates the billboard market, so that's why the city brokered the deal solely with this company. But despite what the mayor says about fewer signs, Scenic Houston Board Member Cici Fowler says the net result isn't in the best interest of the city because Clear Channel will be able to relocate remaining signs.

"In your neighborhood, in my neighborhood, all over the city. And they're going to have the capacity to move these 433 billboards that can move around as though they were on roller skates, they'll be able to move them twice. So people are going to be fighting and it's their property rights that are going to be damaged. This is really a private property right issue."

In fact, Clear Channel will be limited in how many signs they can relocate. And each sign can only be moved twice in 20 years. But Fowler says these billboards would have come down anyway, due to an ordinance passed back in 1980. That law called for the removal of most of these billboards in the year 2013. However, Mayor White says this was a good compromise because the new deal means more signs come down now, even though the ones that remain can be moved around. 

"There may be people who don't like so long as there are any billboards left in the city of Houston. I can sympathize because I am one of those people. If it was up to me, we'd take down every billboard tomorrow and start all over again with a new ordinance what people could put up. But the fact of the matter is, under federal, constitutional and state law the city of Houston is highly regulated and limited in what it can do in both billboards and some issues concerning on-premises signs."

For the signs that do get relocated, Clear Channel will have to comply with restrictions. Many residential areas and scenic districts will be offlimits. The company also is required to upgrade and maintain their billboard structures. The new deal will go into effect in about six months. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...