Proposition D is a Billboard Scam

Written by FCJ Editor. Posted in Opinion, Politics

Published on October 14, 2009 with 7 Comments

By Ian Fletcher, guest editorial

October 14, 2009

In this November’s election, commercial interests are doing their best to ruin downtown San Francisco. Their primary initiative—Proposition D—would create an exemption to current law and allow them to erect giant, flashing billboards along Market Street, between 5th and 7th Streets.

The Proposition D proposal is a total scam.

Despite assertions by the proponents of Proposition D, billboards are not a panacea for the woes that afflict the mid-Market area. It’s insulting to suggest that.

Putting in electronic signs does not revitalize blighted areas. You can see this in Times Square, which had dozens of neon signs during the 1970s when it was an urban cesspool. All over San Francisco, there are areas that were once run-down and have since been revitalized. Not one of them was revitalized by allowing the installation of giant neon signs.

This proposal did not emerge from the local community, which is merely being used as a fig leaf by property owners making a grab for billboard cash. Prop D states that “up to 5%” of billboard space will go to advertise the arts – which means 0% in reality. The 20-40% of revenues supposedly slated for local non-profits would be under the control of the same property owners who would get the profits from the billboards, and these monies could be spent on anything they choose.

Prop D claims that all the billboards it would allow would be under strict community control. But they would be under the control of a “non-profit” group under the control of local property owners – the same people who stand to benefit from allowing the biggest and brightest billboards.

These bright electronic monstrosities would be visible from huge swathes of the city. They would include digital video – which would be like a giant TV outside your window all night. They could even include sound!

The people of this city have several times in the past few years voted to ban new public advertising and billboards. We get bombarded with buy-buy-buy messages almost 24-7 these days. What part of “no” does the billboard industry not understand?

When a similar district was established in Los Angeles a few years ago, it was followed by a lawsuit attempting to force the city to allow the same in all similarly-zoned areas. We run the risk of the same happening here.

Ian Fletcher is a Board Member of San Francisco Beautiful. For more information about the ‘No on D’ campaign, please visit

  • SFreeman

    That’s a really great video. It’s a good reminder of how ugly and invasive billboards are. I’ve gotten mailers about how ‘Yes on D’ is going to clean up Market Street. Yeah, right. This proposition is about one thing–making the developers buckets of money.

  • paulhogarth

    As much as I will probably vote “no” on Proposition D, I think the video is very misleading. The billboard district in question would only be on Market Street between 5th and 7th Streets. Why are we talking about Alamo Square, the Golden Gate Bridge, Palace of Fine Arts, etc.???

    Unless, of course, you are making the “slippery-slope” argument.

  • SFreeman

    Yeah, but isn’t that exactly what the video is doing–making the slippery slope argument? I mean, other than being cool looking, I think the best part of the video is the ‘Your Ad Here’ on the moon.

    You’re not suggesting that the video is seriously dealing with lunar advertisements, right? It’s exaggeration to make a point.

    And by the way, several years ago the GG Bridge Authority DID, in fact, discuss corporate sponsorship of the bridge.

  • brookse32

    In the 90’s there were indeed proposals to put giant billboard advertisements made of lights in Earth orbit, and Coca Cola came very close to installing the first orbital billboard.

    This type of out of control craziness is exactly why we should soundly reject Prop D.

  • William Chadwick

    San Francisco was named the best U.S. city to visit for the 17th year in a row in Conde Nast Traveler magazine’s 2009 Readers’ Choice Awards.

    Do you think that it would still be this consistenly popular if there were giant billboards and TVs erected all over the city?

    If so, vote Yes for Proposition D, and then go and get your head examined,

  • mwbsf

    The only people I see supporting Prop D are those who would profit from it damn the blight and corporate propaganda.


  • greg kamin

    “The billboard district in question would only be on Market Street between 5th and 7th Streets. Why are we talking about Alamo Square, the Golden Gate Bridge, Palace of Fine Arts, etc.???”

    Actually, Paul, it may not be all that misleading, and it may go beyond just the slippery slope argument. Apparently they did this in LA, where they tried to create one billboard district. Then the billboard companies sued to open it up to other neighborhoods, and now they have a couple dozen such districts.