A Lake Havasu City Republican lawmaker wants to open his section of the state to electronic billboards.
The proposal by Sen. Sonny Borrelli would create a 60-mile semicircle around the Tropicana Hotel in Laughlin, Nev. where these signs could be erected by billboard companies. That area stretches from near the Hoover Dam on the north, out Interstate 40 past Kingman on the east, and south past Lake Havasu City.
What Borrelli is offering on behalf of Lamar Advertising would amend a 2012 law that limits the billboards with changing messages to a swath of central and southwest Arizona.
Those limits were crafted following negotiations between the sign industry and the “dark sky” community, including astronomers who said they did not want a new source of light pollution. And it remains to be seen whether foes, who defeated a more far-reaching plan by Borrelli last year, will find this any more acceptable.
That 2012 deal followed an appellate court ruling that internally illuminated billboards with changing messages were illegal along state highways.
A bid by lawmakers to simply override that ruling was vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer amid her concerns about damaging the state’s “dark skies” reputation. That resulted in the deal Brewer did approve: Allow these signs along a wedge from the Phoenix area along I-8 and I-10 west to the state line.
“The issue is one of fair opportunity,” said Lamar lobbyist Nick Simonetta. He said there’s no reason that billboard firms in other areas of the state should be denied the opportunity to put up new electronic signs.
Borrelli said he understands the concerns of the state’s astronomy community on the issue of light pollution.
The 2012 deal specifically made southern and southeastern Arizona, with its telescopes on places like Kitt Peak and Mount Graham, off limits. And that law also prohibits these signs north of the Phoenix area, from one end of the state to the other, in a special bid to protect Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff.
Borrelli said what he’s offering should not affect Lowell. He said the observatory is at 7,500 feet elevation.
“There’s a couple of mountain ranges that are between there and Kingman,” Borrelli said. “We’re not encroaching on their space.”
He conceded that same argument did not work last year when he introduced similar legislation. But Borrelli pointed out that the measure would have allowed electronic billboards throughout all of Mohave County versus the 60-mile radius from Laughlin in his latest bid.
And there’s more.
SB1114 would limit the maximum illumination to 25 percent less than what is permitted in the other areas of the state. It also says there would be a maximum of 50 such signs in the area.
And, like the law already in place for the balance of Arizona, the signs have to go dark after 11 p.m.
Simonetta said he doesn’t believe the new signs will make a big difference from the existing light pollution that comes from Laughlin, “the big lit-up Roman candle” on the Colorado River.
A spokesman for Lowell Observatory said officials there were studying the proposal and at this point had not yet taken a position.
Even if Borrelli gets this new plan through the Legislature and convinces the governor to sign it, that does not guarantee that Lamar — or any other company — will begin erecting the new signs.
Nothing in the legislation overturns the existing authority of cities, towns and counties to enact their own laws regulating outdoor advertising. More to the point, it specifically allows local governments to enact regulations that are even more restrictive than what is in state law.
The measure has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.