JAX 1987 Referendum Leads to Removal of 1,000 Billboards
In 1987, a citizens’ initiative in Jacksonville, Florida led to a Jacksonville City
Charter Amendment which banned the further construction of billboards and set a 5-year
amortization for the removal of billboards along all roadways other than the federal
interstate and federal primary-aid highways. [For a discussion why billboards along federal
roads receive special treatment, see The Great Billboard Double Cross, which appeared
in Readers Digest in 1985].
The billboard industry had effectively thwarted a billboard reform effort before the
City Council through lobbying tactics that were later called into question. One city council
member noted that he had never seen anything like it. An initial effort at passing any
reform legislation failed in August, 1986. In February, 1987, the City Council finally
passed a new sign ordinance but the provisions affecting offsite advertising were very
weak. More than two years had been spent by numerous organizations and individual
citizens in crafting reform legislation, but the final product fell far short of the
recommendations called for by citizens throughout the community.
In March, 1987, Capsigns, Inc. (now Scenic Jacksonville, Inc.) was formed to
educate citizens on more effective sign control (etc.). Capsigns, Inc. sponsored a citizens’
initiative to amend the City Charter to add a new section entitled “Offsite Commercial
More than 17,000 petitions were collected and verified in April, 1987. The ballot
referendum question was placed before the electorate at the City’s general election on May
26, 1987. The referendum was approved with 59% of the vote.
The initiative was opposed by the billboard industry and two political action
committees formed by industry members. Together, the two industry PACs raised over
$180,000 in just a few weeks, and employed mass mailings, phone banks, full page ads,
and radio commercials to oppose the initiative, but their efforts were unsuccessful.
During the campaign, several standard (and questionable) industry tactics were
utilized, but they were exposed by local investigative reporters.
After waiting until most of the five year anniversary had passed, the billboard
industry members filed a series of lawsuits in 1991 and 1992 in state and federal court to
delay or block enforcement of the 1987 Charter Amendment and nearly every sign
ordinance or land use provision that affected their billboards. In 1994 and 1995, through
a series of settlement agreements, the billboard industry agreed to remove more than 1,060
billboard faces and their accompanying structures in Jacksonville. More than 700
billboards have been removed to date.