News

Scenic Texas strives to keep its stakeholders informed on scenic issues.  Check here for up-to-date news happening both locally and worldwide.

Scenic Day in Austin – March 21st

We hope you will join us for a scenic gathering in Austin on March 21. In addition to learning about various scenic programs, pending legislation, and Scenic Austin activities, you will get to meet like-minded folks from the rest of the State. These face-to-face gatherings always help to inspire and invigorate us to continue our quest for a more beautiful Texas.

Tuesday, March 21st
11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. –  Coordinated meetings at Capitol, City Hall and Editorial Boards

3:00 – 4:30 p.m. – Scenic Texas Board and member meeting

4:30 – 6:30 p.m. – Social Gathering (complimentary valet)

Scenic Texas Board meeting and Social Gathering:
Café Blue | 340 E 2nd St, Austin, TX 78701

*For those that wish to continue your conversations at Café Blue, dinner reservations can be made directly with the restaurant.  Please contact Café Blue at 512-428-5796 or visit their website at http://cafebluetx.com.  (Scenic Texas will not cover the costs of dinner).

Thank you to our generous event sponsors:

Bojorquez Law Firm | Land Use Solutions, LLC
Margaret Lloyd | TBG Partners

For questions, please contact Margaret Lloyd at 713-898-2819 or Girard Kinney at 512-472-5572.
To RSVP,  please contact Blanca Ortega at 713-533-9149.

Appeals Court Guts the Texas Highway Beautification Act

On August 26th, the Austin Court of Appeals issued an opinion declaring that key sections of the Texas Highway Beautification Act (TxHBA) are unconstitutional.  As a result, TxDOT’s authority to regulate billboards is eliminated.  This decision (Auspro Enterprises v. Texas Department of Transportation) finds that the bulk of the TxHBA is unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment free speech clause under a recent U.S. Supreme Court opinion in the case of Reed v. Town of Gilbert.

Neither the Reed nor Auspro case was about off-premise billboards (Reed was about small temporary signs and Auspro involves a “Ron Paul for President” political sign).  Nevertheless, the Court wiped out the entire TxDOT billboard licensing and permitting scheme.  The Court’s remedy was very broad — it could have simply focused only on the provision regarding political signs on private property, all that was at issue in Auspro.

The State and Scenic Texas agree that TxDOT may not regulate non-commercial political speech on private property. Our position is that the Court should modify its remedy so that the primary purpose of the TxHBA — licensing and permitting of outdoor commercial advertising signs — remains in place.

What’s at stake if the Auspro decision stands

  • The state of Texas loses all authority to regulate billboards anywhere on the federal highway system.
  • The State could lose 10% of its federal highway funding for failing to meet a federal mandate to “effectively control outdoor advertising.”
  • The sole enforcement mechanism remaining would be in those Texas cities that have adopted municipal sign codes. Texas counties have no sign regulatory authority.
  • Unregulated, un-permitted, commercial advertising billboards, of any number, size or height, will spring up along highways across the state.

Action plan

  • On September 27th, the Texas Attorney General will ask the Court to grant a Motion for Rehearing to reconsider the remedy in this case. – DONE   READ THE FULL MOTION
  • Scenic Texas will file an amicus curaie brief, authored by former Texas Supreme Court Justice Scott Brister, to support the AG’s motion. – DONE   READ THE FULL AMICUS BRIEF

UPDATE

  • On December 8, 2016 the court denied the State’s Motion for Rehearing, withdrew its August 26th Auspro opinion and judgment and entered a substituted opinion and judgment.
  • Texas Attorney General has stated this ruling will be appealed to the Texas Supreme Court.
  • With the Texas Legislature in session, Scenic Texas will support legislation to resolve any constitutional problems in the Texas Highway Beautiful Act.

 

LIST OF AMICUS PARTNERS

AIA San Antonio

American Planning Association, Texas Chapter

City of Fort Worth

Gillespie County Economic Development Commission

Harris County

Hill Country Alliance

Houston NW Chamber of Commerce

San Antonio Conservation Society

Texas Association of Counties

Texas City Attorneys Association

Texas Conference of Urban Counties

Texas Economic Development Council

Texas Municipal League 

Town of Westover Hills 

AND

Scenic Texas, Inc. and its Chapters in Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, the Hill Country, and Comal and Fayette Counties, and its affiliate, Scenic Galveston

 

Stories from around the state

Houston Chronicle

Houston Chronicle Editorial

Giddings Times & News

Round Rock Leader

 

Unexpected court ruling delivers setback to Texas Highway Beautification Act

Houston Chronicle – Opponents of billboards and other signs along Texas roadways reacted on Monday with dismay to an appeals court decision striking down significant portions of the Texas Highway Beautification Act, saying the ruling could lead to a litany of signs along federally funded highways.

Read full story

 

23 Texas Cities Earn Prominent Scenic City Certification in 2016

Cities recognized for excellence in scenic standards, total number of certified cities grows to 66

HOUSTON – Twenty-three Texas municipalities have been awarded Scenic City Certification through the Scenic City Certification Program, a project of Scenic Texas. The Scenic City program supports and recognizes cities for commitment to high-quality scenic standards for public roadways and public spaces. Nine cities are now certified for the first time, and 14 are re-certifying or upgrading existing certification status, bringing the total certified cities in Texas to 66.

Read full press release

New Studies Indicate Digital Billboards Compromise Driver Safety: New studies confirm the evidence 

A review of recent research on driver distraction near digital billboards finds increased evidence the bright, constantly changing digital billboards negatively impact traffic safety. The compendium highlights new studies proving digital billboards are attracting longer and more frequent glances from drivers than do static signs.

The compendium’s author, engineering psychologist Jerry Wachtel of the Veridian Group, said that while digital billboards may be succeeding in capturing driver attention and for that reason “they represent a growing threat to traffic safety, particularly along our busiest streets and highways.”

A 2015 study of eight digital billboard locations on highways in Florida and Alabama showed significantly higher crash rates, 25% in Florida and 29% in Alabama, at sites near the digital billboards than those further away. A disproportionate number were rear-end and sideswipe collisions, both typical of crashes caused by driver distraction.

“These studies are especially alarming given the rate at which digital billboards are going up around the country,” said Mary Tracy, president of Scenic America. “It is particularly concerning that our federal government became complicit in these growing threats to public health when they allowed these signs to start going up without first requiring a study to prove they do not endanger driver safety.”

In 2007 the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) reversed a long-held position by giving the green light to digital billboards utilizing “flashing, blinking or intermittent lighting” along federal highways. With no safety analysis, FHWA declared that billboards changing as frequently as 20,000 times a day were not changing “intermittently” as long as they were static for 4 seconds.

This June, Texas Congressman Ted Poe,  along with three other Members of Congress,  urged USDOT/FHWA in a congressional letter to reconsider the decision to authorize digital billboards to operate along the federal highway system. The request was accompanied by the compendium of safety studies reported by the Veridian Group.

Scenic Austin rallies all who care about Austin to oppose digital billboards

In late 2015, the leading owner of outdoor advertising billboards in Austin asked the city to permit conversion of existing billboards across Austin into digital, changeable message boards that would switch advertisements as often as every eight seconds.  Currently, city ordinances prohibit such conversion.

In opposition to this billboard industry request, Scenic Austin,led by Scenic Texas executive committee member and Scenic Austin President Girard Kinney, is actively engaged in a public outreach and education program to urge Austin citizens, neighborhood associations and businesses to speak out against this conversion.  Scenic Austin is urging those who oppose digital billboards to share their stance with Austin City Council. Scenic Austin believes that 24 hour per day, changing, brightly lit billboards pose a significant driver distraction and would negatively affect quality of life for all who live and work in Austin, and all who visit.

A new Scenic Austin video clearly and pointedly describes the economic development and quality of life problems that digital billboards present.   The path that Austin City Council chooses to take on this issue is being watched closely across Texas.

Thanks in large part to Scenic Austin’s work empowering citizens to weigh on this important issue, City of Austin staff recently issued a memorandum to the Mayor and members of Austin City Council recommending that current Austin ordinance language not be changed.   This recommendation supports maintaining the status quo, and keeping Austin free of digital billboards. Austin City Council may take a vote on the matter this summer.

Contact Scenic Austin for more information on digital billboard safety issues and how to weigh in with Austin City Council to voice opposition to any measure that unleashes digital billboards across Austin.

20 Texas Cities Earn Scenic City Certification in 2015

Twenty (20) Texas municipalities have been awarded Scenic City Certification by the Scenic City Certification Program of Scenic Texas in 2015. Seven are certified for the first time, and 13 are re-certifying their status, bringing the total certified cities in Texas to 58. Read the full press release here.

Cities earning first-time certification or re-certification in 2015 include:

Bastrop
Belton
College Station
Cuero
Georgetown
Granbury
Grapevine
Horseshoe Bay
Irving
Magnolia
Missouri City
Nassau Bay
Pflugerville
Pilot Point
Prosper
Sealy
South Padre Island
Sugar Land
Westlake
West Lake Hills

Galveston Hosts Presentation on Secrets of Successful Cities

Ed McMahon, Senior Resident Fellow for the Urban Land Institute and former Scenic America President, spoke to Galveston elected officials and residents on Monday, May 11 about careful development.

Click here to view Ed’s presentation.

News articles:

http://www.galvnews.com/business/free/article_e77180a8-f9f2-11e4-8158-bb2e31546ae2.html

http://www.galvnews.com/opinion/editorials/free/article_7df96d08-f9f1-11e4-a48c-8bef1b486bcb.html

Texas Supreme Court rules in favor of the State over Clear Channel Outdoor

Austin – April 29, 2015 – Today, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of the State of Texas in a lawsuit filed by Clear Channel Outdoor involving condemnation costs to acquire billboards that stood in the way of the widening of the Katy Freeway (IH-10) in Houston bringing to close an eight-year court battle

Advertising revenues realized from a billboard may not be considered in a condemnation action, wrote Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, in a unanimous opinion, upholding the Court’s prior precedent in the State v Central Expressway case. Clear Channel made a determined effort to distinguish the Central Expressway ruling but the Court expressly rejected the various proposed grounds of distinction. The Court concluded, “…Clear Channel is not entitled to further compensation for its loss of business operations at the site.”

The ruling has a far-reaching impact on the future acquisition of billboards across the state and their impact on highway construction costs and, ultimately, to taxpayers who could foot the bill. In this case, Clear Channel claimed that the billboards in question had a total value in the range of $700,000, and it was seeking this amount as its award in the condemnation proceeding. Once advertising revenues were excluded from the valuation formula, however, Clear Channel’s own expert testified that the value of each billboard taken was $15,000.

Scenic Texas praised the court’s decision. “Clear Channel Outdoor pays nothing to use our public highways even though that is the source of 100% of their value,” said Margaret Lloyd, vice president of the Scenic Texas Board of Directors. “The Texas Supreme Court ruling is the final word. Clear Channel should not be unjustly compensated by the taxpayers when highway construction requires their billboards to be removed. We think the Court reached a fair result.”

Brief History:

  • 2006-2007:

o   The state condemned two plots needed to expand Interstate 10 in Houston.

o   TxDOT offers to compensate Clear Channel for the value of the structures and the relocation. Clear Channel rejects the offer.

o   The City of Houston offers to relocate the billboards to a comparable location. Clear Channel rejects the offer.

o   Clear Channel files lawsuit.

  • 2008:  Jury in state district court trial awarded Clear Channel $268,235.27.
  • 2012: The 1st District Court of Appeals in Houston affirmed the jury’s ruling.
  • 2014: Texas Supreme Court accepts oral arguments.
  • 2015: Texas Supreme Court rules in favor of State of Texas.

For more information and access to the amici curaie brief, visit: http://www.scenictexas.org//wp-content/themes/uploads/2014-04-21-Brief-of-Amici-Curiae.pdf

Scenic Texas was one of the organizations that supported the State in an Amici Curaie brief. Scenic Texas was joined by the Texas Municipal League, the Texas Association of Counties, the Texas Conference of Urban Counties, The Alamo, Central Texas, North East Texas, and North Texas Regional Mobility Authorities, the City of Houston, and Harris County.

To view the press release as a PDF, click here.

Conroe Declares Billboard-free ETJ

North Houston Association, Scenic Texas and City of Conroe Cooperation

On March 11, 2015, the City of Conroe passed an amendment to its sign ordinance to extend Conroe’s prohibition on new billboards to include its extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ).  Conroe took this action in light of Grand Parkway construction.  The North Houston Association and Scenic Texas had consulted with the City of Conroe regarding its ability to protect the northern Grand Parkway segments from billboard proliferation.  Houston, Tomball, Baytown, Friendswood, League City and the Woodlands Township—other cities along the Grand Parkway alignment— already prohibit new billboard permits within their cities and ETJ.  Conroe assistant director for Community Development Nancy Mikeska said, “The GP is going to be a billboard-free parkway, a scenic type parkway.”

Read more here: http://www.yourhoustonnews.com/courier/news/billboards-now-prohibited-in-conroe-etj/article_80e1a81b-79e0-5a85-98e4-e9e474c25e27.html 

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