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Marin wants to put brakes on Toyota’s ‘subtle’ advertising

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POSTED April 10, 2010 1:51 a.m.
Lady Bird Johnson is probably rolling over in her grave.

Caltrans - in a bid to reduce maintenance costs - has expanded a Southern California test pilot program into Northern California. Judging by the non-reaction in La-La Land and the adverse reaction in Marin County where Caltrans is trying the same thing it is safe to save there is a difference in attitude once you cross the Tehacapis.

The “test program” is allowing a corporation to “adopt” segments of freeway right-of-way landscaping. Caltrans spokespersons say it is modeled after the Adopt-A-Highway program where individuals, organizations, and businesses can have their names grace signs toting their public service deeds. The test program does have that component but there is one big difference. The participant can design whatever landscaping they want as long as there were no words employed

Toyota jumped at the chance. Now when you transverse Novato on Highway 101 you’ll see floral plantings with the image of a Toyota Prius incorporated in them.

It is in effect a floral billboard and it is a much larger user of water than native drought-resistant landscaping.

First of all, new billboards have been outlawed in Marin County for three decades and counting. If that weren’t bad enough, California is still dealing with a third straight year of drought.

So the message the state - and Toyota - are sending us is that it is OK to waste water as long as you promote an environmentally friendly product.

Caltrans has acted as a tad surprised at the reaction in the Land of the Hot Tub. California, surely as someone has noticed by now at Caltrans, is a state of different minds.

In defense of Caltrans, they simply didn’t give it much thought beyond looking for ways to cut costs and to beautify the freeway corridor.

The War over the Prius landscaping aside, Caltrans is pretty much dialing into the new reality in California although the rest of the folks up in Sacramento appear to still be living in the 1960s when tax revenue flowed like the Russian River after a series of El Nino storms.

Caltrans can no longer afford to maintain landscaping. They get that. They were simply trying to be innovative in addressing long-term issues about unsightliness in urban areas plus fire dangers created when vegetation is allowed to dry out.

The partnership they have formed with the City of Manteca speaks well of Caltrans being pragmatic for the times. The two entities have teamed up to transform the busy Highway 120 Bypass and Highway 99 interchange where up to 130,00 vehicles  per day.

In the coming months, 1,700 trees - primarily native species - will be planted. Caltrans’s design perimeters call for minimizing the use of water at the 120 Bypass/Highway 99 interchange. The trees will be irrigated intensely for about three years to get them established.

The landscaping portion – when it goes out to bid – will require the contractor awarded the project to maintain it for three years.

Of course, the state and city were able to access $1.4 million in federal American Recovery Act money to do the landscaping at the 120/Highway 99 interchange as well as the Highway 99/East Yosemite Avenue interchange. Caltrans doesn’t have that luxury necessarily everywhere else.

Perhaps Caltrans will reassess the test program in Marin County when it ends and address the need to make sure those who sponsor landscaping use native or drought resistant plants plus ban any advertising as passive as it might be. Then if companies like Toyota are really interested in doing community service and not plugging their products, they could continue to adopt landscaping.

Instead of looking for ways to sell California’s soul via advertising to raise money or defray costs, hopefully Caltrans and other state agencies will apply reality thinking as they have done with the project moving forward at the Highway 99 and Highway 120 Bypass interchange.

In an ideal world, Lady Bird Johnson’s goal of eliminating all adverting billboards along freeways and highways will ultimately become a reality.

It is doubtful she would have been thrilled because an auto firm came up with the idea to turn flowers into advertising.
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