by John Grooms
Wow. We all know that politicians often repay their contributors with special favors and that those favors are often not in the general publics best interests. But for sheer, brazen corporate butt-kissing at the expense of the public interest, its gonna be awfully hard to beat the "Selective Vegetation Removal" bill, now in committee in the General Assembly. The bill would let outdoor billboard companies replace regular, existing billboards with electronic ones on interstates and federally managed roads such as U.S. 74 and N.C. 49 in Charlotte. While theyre busy putting up the new billboards, owners could also clear any trees within 400 feet of the billboard, up from the current 250 feet limit. As Jim Morrill explains in the Observer, the bill would also overrule local billboard regulations, including Charlottes tree ordinance and Durham's billboard ban. So much for that local control and decentralization the GOPers keep talking about. On top of all that and this is the truly mind-blowing part the bill would allow up to seven electronic billboards per mile.
Imagine what that would be like: An electronic billboard every 800 feet and with the new 400-foot clearance, trees would essentially be clear-cut all the way down the highway, leaving nothing but flashing distractions, as far as the eye could see. (No wonder Sen. Brown says his bill would be good for tourism; people would probably drive from out of state just to see all the flashing lights.) I'm sorry, but this bill is so ludicrous, such an obvious sop to an industry whose excessive influence in Raleigh is matched by its contempt for the public, and so aesthetically barbaric, it takes your breath away. As one commenter on the Observer site wrote, With seven billboards per mile, why not show pay-per-view movies?
The bill was introduced by GOP state senator Harry Brown of Onslow County, and co-sponsored by, among others, Sen. Bob Rucho of Matthews, who is rapidly turning into the most aggressively pro-business-at-the-expense-of-everything-else lawmaker weve seen in years.
Theres a real chance of stopping this insane bill, as its opposed by the Association of County Commissioners, the N.C. League of Municipalities, the Metro Mayors Coalition and the N.C. Planning Association. Please let your state senators know how you feel about the bill. And while you're doing that, think of suggesting to Charlotte leaders that the city join more than a dozen other U.S. cities and ban the overly distracting electronic billboards altogether.