Bay Bridge Billboards? Scenic East Bay Scores a Partial Win

March 2, 2014

Politics, Streets


billboard makeover in Sao Paolo, 8th largest city in the world where billboards are banned

I admit it, I was in shock for at least 10 minutes when I received the email from our lawyer Brian Gaffney, that the huge billboard company Foster Media and my personal nemesis for the last 18 months, had withdrawn their applications for billboards locations 1 and 2 at the Bay Bridge. We knew that CalTrans had approved billboards 3-5, but billboards 1 and 2 are the most egregious as they will tower over the incredible new bike path and would have been right on the border of Gateway Park when it comes to fruition. The mystery remains: why did Foster withdraw their application on Feb 13, one day before our public protest and a full week before CalTrans received the letter from our lawyer, where he conclusively proved that billboards 1 and 2 were illegal, based on CalTrans own regulations regarding “landscaped freeways?” What is no mystery is that the proposed billboards will add to blighting the new 6.4 billion dollar Bay Bridge, create digital distraction and endanger lives. Our coalition which includes Bike East Bay, the Sierra Club and Audobon, used time worn tactics to win this partial victory: starting by calling the press, educating the public and ourselves, making t-shirts and lawn signs, and showing up at Mayor Quan’s press conference to inaugurate the Bay Bridge. We set up numerous meetings with City Council staff and electeds, staff of state senators Skinner, Bonta and Hancock, Mayor Quan and even one with CalTrans Outdoor Advertising– most of which ended with no help promised and little sense we had made a dent in communicating our core belief–that Oakland cannot afford to deface our landscape for the sake of some shortsighted, meager profits. To be graphic: it’s like shitting on yourself.


Opening Day of the new Bay Bridge

The three existing digital billboards at the foot of the Bay Bridge are already a horrible blight and can be seen from the Oakland and Berkeley hills, Emeryville, Treasure Island and even Sausalito. Decisions by the Port of Oakland for the existing three monstrosities ( brokered by developer Phil Tagami and Governor Brown for his Oakland School for the Arts in 2005 and 2007) already pollute the visual environments of our neighbors. Adding 5 more billboards would add insult to injury. We spoke at many committee and City Council meetings. We collected over 3700 signatures for our petitions at And we had a few face-to-face strategy meetings with our core group. We emailed late into the night, sharing new information and collective rants. At times, I felt like throwing in the towel, but then I would ride the Bay Bridge bike path again and seeing the existing billboards polluting the Bay would energize me to keep fighting. When I returned from a long trip in January to find out that CalTrans had approved 3 of the 5 billboards without even sending them to us for review (as required by public records requests),  we decided that immediate action was necessary. Desperate times call for desperate measures. We finally hired a lawyer and paid him out of our own pockets and collective fundraising. (We still owe $1500–if interested in making a tax-deductible donation, contact

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Don’t break Our Hearts protest outside Foster Media headquarters, downtown Oakland

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“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

And the fight is only beginning. Scenic East Bay demands that CalTrans revoke the approvals for billboards 3-5 as fraudulent information in the applications indicate that the business activity listed (Arthur Fryer Lighting) was evicted in May 2013 and the building it occupied is slated for demolition by Tagami and Prologis, an ironic twist since he will personally benefit from these eyesores. Also, an on-the-ground investigation shows that at least billboard location #3 is newly landscaped. As CalTrans is a public agency, we ask CalTrans to call for a moderated discussion with Foster Media (or other billboard companies) and Scenic East Bay to discuss CalTrans regulations, especially those related to “landscaped highway designation.” As it is now, there is no public scrutiny and one person, James Arbis, head of Northern California Outdoor Advertising, uses inspectors and then makes a decision that could affect all of our lives for the next 66 years. Other communities, at wits end to curtail existing billboards, have resorted to hacking billboards and literally cutting them down. We still prefer the tactics of public persuasion and following the law, especially Oakland’s strict billboard ordinance. But stopping the billboards before they go up is much preferable to trying to get them down once they are up. If it comes down to it, I will commit civil disobedience to stop any more from ruining my Bay Bridge bike ride. And I guarantee I won’t be alone.

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About Karen Hester

Karen Hester is a community activist and events coordinator who lives in North Oakland in Temescal Creek Cohousing. Her event productions website is She lives and breathes the fight to stop more billboards in Oakland and started

View all posts by Karen Hester

One Response to “Bay Bridge Billboards? Scenic East Bay Scores a Partial Win”

  1. eat2thrive Says:

    You go , Karen!
    I’ll be with you.


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