Up to 85 digital commercial billboards could light up the skies all over nature-loving, small-business-owning Austin after a decades-old ban on the bright, flashy signs was recently found by a court to be unconstitutional.
The billboards, which switch images up to every eight seconds, offer exponentially more affordable ad options for small business owners but create what opponents call "visual blight" along highways in both urban centers and unincorporated areas.
At least one City Council member, whose district could include up to 20 digitized billboards if the opinion stands, indicates she would fight for the current ban.
"I believe the City's prohibition of off-premise digital signage stands on solid legal ground, and I will be talking with City legal staff to ensure that this rule remains in place," said Council Member Kathie Tovo, whose District 9 includes much of downtown.
The opinion is focused on an Austin lawsuit but, if allowed to stand with no appeals, would set a precedent that could have statewide and national implications.
The signs in question are "off-premise," which means they advertise businesses that are not at the property where the sign is located. "On-premise" signs are more loosely regulated, and digital signs are generally allowed if they are on the business property.
The two companies who own the analog signs in lawsuit, Lamar Advertising Company and Reagan Outdoor Advertising, asked the city of Austin to allow them to digitize their signs in 2017 but were denied based on the city's sign code.
They sued, arguing, among other things, that the regulations were discriminatory because they allowed some signs to be digital and not others, a distinction they said was content based—and thus violated the First Amendment—because the signs' content is what indicates whether it is off-premise or on-premise. The Fifth Circuit agreed in its Aug. 25 opinion.
The argument against them is at odds with Austin's culture of supporting small businesses, which would benefit from having access to more sign inventory at lower prices and avoiding costs of production, Bill Reagan, founder, chairman and CEO of Reagan Outdoor Advertising, told Austonia in an interview.
"We look forward to the ability to avail ourselves of this technology," Reagan said. "Everything in this world is going more and more digital, not less. Billboards shouldn't be excluded from that technological evolution."
But in a town that loves the soft lights of its historic moon towers and has tried to guard against over-populating the highways with billboards, the idea of digital signs, officially known as "changeable electronic variable message" billboards, blazing against the night sky is a tough one to swallow for opponents.
"It just doesn't make sense for Austin," said Sarah Tober, executive director for Austin-based Scenic Texas told Austonia. "We are a city that loves our wild, natural beauty, and this is the furthest thing from that."
In a Sept. 23 letter to Austin Mayor Steve Adler and the City Council, the group asked the city to appeal the ruling. City officials have not yet indicated whether they will appeal. Their deadline is January 2021.
A long history in Austin
Supporters have also argued that updating analog billboards with the digitized ones is "good for the local economy, will produce less light pollution than floodlights on traditional billboards and can help public safety," according to a report in the Austin Monitor in 2015, before the city updated the codes the following year.
Opponents said the tall commercialized digital billboards do more harm than good, stipulating that highway safety messages currently allowed are often lower to the ground and easier to see while driving.
"The State of Texas has said we do not need to have a digital device in our hands, so why do we need to be looking at a digital device in the sky?" Tober said. "There are health implications, there are mental health health implications, there are physical health implications, and there are physical health implications of having digital billboards. There are also broader environmental implications."
There's also the potential risk of hackers, she noted, who in late 2019 broke into a digital billboard over an interstate in Michigan and broadcasted pornography for several minutes.
At the time, groups like Scenic Texas and its Austin chapter were trying to ban or eliminate billboards altogether. Meanwhile, the supporters were pushing for the codes to further regulate on-premise signs while allowing them to upgrade the technology on existing off-premise billboards to digital.
Eventually, the city landed here on the issue: Keep the 700 billboards the city already had at the time, only let a new one up when an old one comes down, and maintain the ban on digitized off-premise billboards, with some exceptions.
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Cold weather is finally hitting Austin, which means it's time to enjoy staying at home and bundling up with some cozy meals.
If you haven't become the cook of your dreams since the pandemic hit, now is the perfect time to try out these recipes which will surely warm your belly.
Blackberry, bacon grilled cheese<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU5MzQwMS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMTU4Nzg0N30.y0sULvOAmBjq1ZbNdQ1fdOUgenNLSkbQitW2O-v-h2E/img.png?width=1200&coordinates=0%2C231%2C0%2C369&height=800" id="248c9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0e9c480efdcda9ca576b8bf3de759c3c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>If you are looking for a completely different take on a traditional comfort meal, try making a blackberry, bacon grilled cheese. Blackberry, bacon and jalapeños on a grilled cheese? Sounds bizarre, but the mixture of savory, sweet and spicy will have you making these every week.</p><p>This easy recipe will only take 15 minutes and will allow you to cozy up on the couch ready to binge watch your favorite show. For any sandwich lover, this take on a grilled cheese will brighten up any gloomy, cold day.</p><p>You can find the recipe for the blackberry bacon grilled cheese<a href="https://www.lemontreedwelling.com/blackberry-bacon-grilled-cheese/" target="_blank"> here</a>.</p>
Jambalaya<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU5MzM5OS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1OTc5OTEyMX0.760iOWCfyYyyXbA7NmyTDUa4FctY00REUXftmBLAtA8/img.png?width=1200&coordinates=0%2C117%2C0%2C439&height=800" id="2fca4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ecd9c9503736d209e8dd3e11b94bb4f5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>For those of you looking for a hearty and flavorful wintertime dinner, try spicing up your kitchen skills by making a cajun jambalaya.</p><p>Jambalaya is a popular dish originated in New Orleans with West African, French and Spanish inspired flavors. With so many different varieties of flavors, you can modify your jambalaya to suit your desires, and add your own touch to the dish.</p><p>This recipe will take about 55 minutes, and will definitely make your neighbors envy the smell coming from next door.</p><p>You can find the recipe for the cajun jambalaya <a href="https://www.gimmesomeoven.com/jambalaya-recipe/" target="_blank">here</a>.</p>
Sheet pan chicken tikka with cauliflower and chickpeas<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU5MzQyNS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMTgyOTE3MX0.OOSOmCgn2kXx-KsiZGjZ_cs5r7X1qZZdwNYAJ5lKR_0/img.png?width=1200&coordinates=0%2C310%2C0%2C311&height=800" id="287c6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5ada473e20e0a3d9e8e302019bbb3c52" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p><br>For anyone looking for an easy meal prep during the colder months, try making a sheet pan chicken tikka with cauliflower and chickpeas. This recipe is protein-packed and takes 55 minutes to make.</p><p>This recipe is perfect for anyone who wants to get home, cozy up in their favorite sweater and enjoy a warm, flavorful meal. Try pairing this chicken with rice or quinoa for some more substance.</p><p>You can find the recipe for the sheet pan chicken tikka with cauliflower and chickpeas <a href="https://www.prevention.com/food-nutrition/recipes/a25620918/chicken-tikka-sheet-pan-recipe/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.</p>
Spicy pork ramen noodle soup<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU5MzQwMC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNzc0NjkyMH0.cIfhB4xkAQdcDYlugGFahbUFRJW-AEklw9i-t68QHxo/img.png?width=1200&coordinates=0%2C530%2C0%2C68&height=800" id="b5335" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e2f83e6aa50d5d8eafd7c4333b0a51ce" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p><br>If you have five hours to spare at home, put those ramen packets aside and attempt making your own spicy pork ramen. Although it is a bit more time consuming, this ramen will impress everyone in your home and you'll forget about buying ramen from the grocery store.</p><p>The broth is made by slow cooking the pork for four hours, which will enhance the taste and be so worth it. Customize the recipe by adding your favorite vegetables and spice it up a bit more with chili flakes.</p><p>You can find the recipe for the spicy pork ramen noodle soup <a href="https://www.kitchensanctuary.com/spicy-pork-ramen-noodle-soup/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.</p>
Vegan mushroom wild rice soup<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU5MzM5Ni9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MjU5NzI4MH0.YAE_oJnS50B4xV024Eqhs-9AJESRflIpE5XFzCtPHgI/img.png?width=1200&coordinates=0%2C326%2C0%2C191&height=800" id="1f92b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="321a1ea7ed77821f7751ba016b02315b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>As cold weather approaches, what could be better than a mushroom wild rice soup for dinner? When thinking of winter, cream and mushroom definitely come to mind. If you are looking for the perfect cold weather dish, look no further.</p><p>This warm and comforting dish will take about an hour to make and is completely dairy and gluten free. With minimal ingredients and only one pot needed, the total time you'll spend making this soup is about how long it would take for you to order take out and pick it up. Homemade tastes better anyway.</p><p>You can find the recipe for the vegan mushroom wild rice soup <a href="https://shortgirltallorder.com/vegan-mushroom-wild-rice-soup" target="_blank">here</a>.</p>
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