Next Labor Day the new Bay Bridge finally opens. From the single elegant tower to the world's largest self-anchored suspension span, the new Bay Bridge may be worth the wait for its signature design and aesthetics. But if not stopped, five new super-bright billboards, three of them digital, will pollute our visual landscape as motorists arrive in Oakland after crossing the new multibillion dollar bridge.
The latest billboards are part of the development plan in the old Oakland Army Base deal and will deface the entrance to Oakland for 66 years, with 70 percent of the revenue going to a huge billboard company and the developer of the Army Base. These garish signs will blight the nearby Gateway Park as well as the iconic port and Oakland hills view. Our new park will allow pedestrians, bicyclists and tourist visitors to access the Bay Bridge and Treasure Island, but should they have to walk or bike under towering 70-foot billboards?
It makes no sense that we should harm our tourism, our attempts to bring in new businesses, our public face to the world and our visual environment. Adding five new billboards is a creeping disaster and one that we can't afford to make for future generations. Studies indicate that any time drivers look away from the road for more than two seconds, the risk of an accident increases three-fold. With cell phone use at an all time high while driving, we don't need to add more billboards to the list of driver distractions, especially at this location where a driver must make many decisions. The 270,000 drivers who will pass the billboards day and night will be assaulted with the message that Oakland is a poor city — poor in spirit and poor in visioning its future.
More than 30 cities and counties across the country have banned or put a moratorium on new billboards, including San Francisco, Marin County and Houston — even Sao Paolo, Brazil, the eighth largest city in the world. We have an amazing city, and we must preserve our sense of place, our fantastic panoramas and the self-respect Oakland must win with such difficulty. Caltrans still has to approve the billboards, so we have a last opportunity for long-term planning instead of short-term gain to prevail.
With a Perspective, This is Karen Hester.
Karen Hester is an events coordinator and anti-billboard activist.