On the last day of its monthly meetings Friday, the California Coastal Commission approved a bid by the city of Eureka to ban all new digital signs and billboards.

“I’m just delighted. We think they are really ugly,” said Michele McKeegan, the head of Keep Eureka Beautiful's tree project, a volunteer community advocacy group that supported the legislation. “They’re ugly. They flash and they’re often garish. People just don’t like them.”

The bill then went to the City Council, which passed a ban on digital signs and billboards from certain parts of the city and regulated the brightness of the signs. Because Eureka is on the Pacific coast and the ordinance would change zoning policy, the California Coastal Commission — the state agency assigned to protect and conserve the state’s coastline — had to sign off. 

Not only did the commission approve Eureka's ordinance, it asked the city to go farther and enact a complete ban on new digital billboards and signs across the city. The city agreed, passed the amended ordinance and sent it to the commission for approval.  

Along with banning new digital signs and billboards, the ordinance also forces the existing billboards to only contain static messages and only transition from one message to another instantly, without any transitional effects like fading out. The ads on the digital billboards can’t change more than once every 15 seconds, and they have to conform to both the city’s brightness standards, and the International Dark-Sky Association's brightness standards.   

“What we need are trees in our community, not digital billboards, street trees,” McKeegan said. 

Jennifer Kalt, the executive director of Humboldt Baykeeper, a coastal resources advocacy group, said the signs are also dangerous.
“The digital signs are more of an issue of light pollution and safety hazards, particularly on a quite dangerous stretch of US 101 that lacks pedestrian and cycling features,” Kalt wrote in an emailed statement. “We certainly applaud the city for being proactive about this, although it should have been done years ago.” 

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