There aren’t many people in Reno who have a better pool of knowledge about billboard law than the chair of Scenic Nevada, Doug Smith. He has served as a Reno planning commissioner and on the original Regional Planning Commission, where he worked on billboard issues. He was a key player in the 2000 ballot measure that capped the number of billboards in Reno. Information on Scenic Nevada can be found at http://scenicnevada.org.
Why is a group like Scenic Nevada needed?
Scenic Nevada is needed to preserve, protect and enhance the scenic character of Nevada.
What have been some of the issues you’ve gotten involved in?
Some of the major issues have been billboards, open space, cleaning up highways and so on. But primarily the billboard industry has been our primary problem.
Have you been involved with legislative lobbying?
Yes, we have. Las Vegas at one time—the billboard industry down there—had a bill in the Legislature on amortization of billboards.
Amortization of is a method of reimbursing the billboard owner over a prescribed number of years such as five to 10 years for removing his billboards due to non-compliance or developments and providing just compensation. The Nevada Legislature eliminated the cost approach to values in the 2001 session and actually legislated a much higher valuation methodology as well as prohibiting amortization.
How do you feel about what the Reno City Council is doing on billboards that are digital?
I think they are very much uninformed as to what the results of digital billboards are. They want us to trade one standard billboard for a digital billboard. A digital billboard brings in about 12 times the amount of income that a standard billboard does. So, therefore, it’s really a big advantage to them. It’s a cash cow.
Can you get the nuances of that issue through to the public?
I think we can. We’re working on some programs now. We’ve had people come in from other states that are working with Scenic America … and I think we will work on a campaign to try to make people a little better informed. In other words, we need new blood.
To the public, a billboard is a billboard, whether it’s traditional or digital. How do you get a difference across?
On the digital billboards, because of the fact that they rotate every six to eight seconds, why that’s a problem. Most people I’ve talked to … believe that they voted no new billboards, and a digital billboard is a new billboard. It’s not the same technology or anything. No way is it related to what the standard billboard is.
Aren’t you arguing that, because of content, because there are multiple, rotating messages on a digital billboard, it’s more than one billboard? Why shouldn’t a billboard be a billboard, regardless of digital or traditional?
A billboard is a billboard as far as content is concerned, but the technology is entirely different. We’re saying, as an example, we have 278 billboards allowed in Reno. If we take an exchange on an equal rate [one digital for one traditional] we’d basically have 10 times, which would be about 2,700 billboards.
What issues do you see coming up?
I think open space is always going to be a situation we need to look at. I think also we will be looking at billboards as far as whether they pay their fair share. In other words, a billboard uses all of the highways, byways. They’re the only ones that don’t pay a user tax. They really make a lot of money, but that’s not really fair.