Joel Mielke / @ 7:09 a.m. / Op-Ed

LIMITING THE UGLY: Will Eureka Gently Correct Course Away From the Lighted, Blighted Future Toward Which it Careens?


Yet more digital billboards coming to Eureka

The old digital sign at George Petersen Insurance seems almost quaint now, with its time and temperature mutely glaring day and night. We’re seeing newer and larger electronic signs, and it appears that yet more of them will soon be competing for our attention — after all, we need something to divert the attention of drivers away from their hand-held devices, right?

City reviewing sign regulations

The city of Eureka is updating LED sign regulations due to increased occurrences of these luminous eye-sores. City staff have settled on “digital signs” as the term of art, since the specific technology (LED, LCD, etc) is ever evolving. “In many ways, digital signs are large television screens,” the staff report “Strategy for Digital Signs”* notes.

Digital signs may be limited to already blighted areas

In Henderson Center and Old Town, we breathe a sigh of relief as the report notes that a compromise between sign opponents and the we-want-to-look-like-Bakersfield crowd will allow that electronic signs “only be permitted in certain areas, such as 4th Street, 5th Street, and Broadway.” This begs the question — we all tacitly agree that these dazzling rainbows of urgent messaging are, in fact, ugly. “Certain areas” we can infer to mean zones abandoned to irredeemable ugliness, right?

Further questions

The current required “dwell time” for messages is five minutes, but most electronic signs in Eureka ignore this regulation. Staff suggests that the new standard should be 15 to 30 seconds before shifting to the next image, which would be more reasonable. But anyone who has driven through southern California recently knows that video is the emerging trend. How would “dwell time” apply to videos.

More electronic signs mean more competition for the attention of drivers. Questions like how much cleavage is too much, and what constitutes a too-violent image will surely be addressed before the City Council in the near future.

Will digital signs be allowed to blaze away all night? What about billboard-style advertising? For example, Redwood Acres has a casino ad on their sign, which effectively turns it into an illuminated billboard. Where do we draw the line? Should the principal streets by which many visitors experience our city (Broadway, Fourth and Fifth) be abandoned to blight indefinitely?

The next step —Design Review

The Eureka Design Review Committee will be reviewing the city staff ’s report, “Strategy for Digital Signs,” at their meeting at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, January 24th. The city staff ’s report is thoughtful, thorough and well worth reading. Find it here.


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