Mar 25, 2014
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Councilman Tom Butt is leading an effort to remove Pacific East Mall’s LED billboard, saying it is illegal.

Butt placed a resolution on the April 1 City Council agenda that would revoke the mall owner’s permit for the brightly lit billboard overlooking Interstate 80.

Butt claims the sign was not properly vetted when it was given city approval in 2009, and that it violates Richmond’s former sign ordinance in multiple ways. The billboard isn’t allowed to be located within 660 feet of I-80, he said, and is supposed to call attention to the mall and not be used to advertise unrelated businesses.

The councilman said he recently inspected the sign.

“I watched the Pacific East Mall sign…rotate ads for Toyota, Coors/Oakland A’s, United Airlines and Turkish Towel Collection (in Berkeley),” Butt wrote in his e-forum. “These rotated every 6-7 seconds. There was one ad for Tamashii Ramen House at Pacific East Mall, but I only saw it once and it did not seem to be in the standard rotation.”

Butt also questioned the process by which Pacific East Mall representatives, city leaders and staffers got the billboard approved.

“It was an improper approval,” Butt said. “Just because something gets a permit doesn’t mean that what is normally illegal is suddenly legal.”

Terry Kwong, Pacific East Mall’s owner, disputes Butt’s claims, saying the sign was approved legally and that it cost nearly $500,000 to construct.

“They [City Council] are trying to drive every business out of the city,” Kwong said. “I think they should do something more constructive instead of this.”

Butt’s resolution is tied to an effort from some community members to add an LED billboard near Hilltop Mall. Supporters believe the billboard will help revitalize the financially-struggling mall.

The city is crafting an ordinance that would limit the billboards to certain commercial locations, such as Hilltop Mall, Richmond Parkway, the Target/Macdonald Shopping Center and Pacific East Mall.

Butt opposes LED billboards, arguing that the majority of residents don’t want them. He also believes the mall will need a lot more than an electronic billboard to become financially stable.

The Richmond Chamber of Commerce, which said the sign at Pacific East Mall “squeaked through” in 2009, supports updating the sign ordinance. The chamber said such billboards are not only good for local businesses but can also be used for Amber Alerts. Studies show LED signs do not distract drivers, the chamber said.


About the Author

Mike Aldax is the editor of the Richmond Standard. He has 13 years of journalism experience, most recently as a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner. He previously held roles as reporter and editor at Bay City News, Napa Valley Register, Garden Island Newspaper in Kaua’i, and the Queens Courier in New York City.