There are city owned “trees” along the Moffat Boulevard leg of the Tidewater Bikeway.
They provide shade on summer days and offer a visual relief to the vast desolate feel that the undeveloped Manteca linear city park offers its users.
The species of trees? Advertiseanumus or known by their common name - billboards.
The City Council needs to seriously address its de facto policy of allowing commercial billboards in city parks. And that is what the Tidewater is - a city park.
In fairness, the city has finally started getting serious about doing something to change the hues along the Tidewater from browns and dry gold to green. Tonight, they may authorize staff to partner with a church group and spend $33,000 in funds restricted for bike path and pedestrian use to install 250 trees and the necessary irrigation along the Moffat leg of the Tidewater.
The city respected the contract that that was inked with National Advertising Company in 1991 when Union Pacific approved a deal when the railroad still owned the property. Manteca acquired the land in 1997 from the railroad to create the 34-acre linear park known as the Tidewater Bike Path.
On April 16, 2007, the City Council reaffirmed an earlier decision to terminate the lease as allowed under provisions of the original contract.
The City Council served notice on May 1, 2007 to CBS Outdoor — a wholly owned subsidiary of CBS that had acquired the billboards and is the nation’s largest owner of billboards — that it wanted the three two-sided billboards on city property removed.
The legal agreement between the city and the nation’s largest owner of billboards required the billboards to either be removed within 30 days of receiving notice from the city or — if not removed by them — the city could do so and the sign company would have to reimburse the city for the costs of removal as long as it occurred within one year after the 30-day period expired.
That means the city had until June 1, 2007 to remove the billboards that are in the Tidewater Bikeway municipal park and still get CBS to reimburse the costs. It’s been 23 months since the deadline passed yet the billboards still stand.
This is where Congress came into play. The billboard companies got the federal government to put laws in place that CBS apparently believes supersedes a legally binding contract and gives them carte blanche to ignore local government that also happens to own the land that is leased to CBS.
What we have here are:
• a legally binding contact.
• land that is owned by the people of Manteca and not CBS.
• a mega-corporation that will do anything to protect its revenue stream.
• a lease that pays Manteca only $2,070 a year for six billboards when home builders will pay property owners $1,200 a year to place directional signs to new subdivisions on their property that are just an eighth in size of just one of the billboards.
Obviously, CBS figures it can afford to protect cash cows.
The City Council acting on advice of its staff believes it can do nothing or else they may incur the wrath of CBS’s legal team that probably has more lawyers than Manteca has municipal workers. Hogwash.
The plain truth is the city doesn’t want to do anything which suits the City Council just fine because they can talk the talk and then hide behind the threat of a lawsuit and do nothing.
Here’s what the council can do: Serve notice again and go ahead and tear the signs down. If CBS threatens to get a court injunction, great. Call up the Sierra Club, TV stations, and anyone else to give them a chance to get in on Goliath vs. David.
The city is sending the wrong message by doing nothing. Basically if you’re big enough, if you’re powerful enough, and if you’ve got enough money you can have you way with Manteca and its 65,000 residents.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org