Rapid City voters sent a strong anti-billboard message Tuesday, approving two measures to restrict the future development of the signs in the city by nearly a 2-1 margin.
Members of the Scenic Rapid City citizens' group that brought the issue to a vote said the outcome gives both the city council and the state Legislature a mandate to further restrict billboards.
"This is very big to our council members," group president Lisa Modrick said. "They needed to see what the citizens thought."
Rapid City's two largest outdoor advertising companies, Lamar Outdoor Advertising and Epic Outdoor Advertising, together with Daktronics, the Brookings-based international digital sign manufacturer, issued a joint statement saying the measures "will prevent billboard companies from updating and upgrading older, larger billboards" because it prevents them from trading old signs for new digital ones.
"There can be a balance between local outdoor advertising opportunities and ensuring the preservation of our great landscape," said Doug Rumpca, general manager of Lamar.
"Unfortunately, passing these measures will make both efforts nearly impossible."
The companies said the measures also will reduce the advertising opportunities for local businesses and limit the number of public service messages.
"Advertising on digital billboards is cost effective, flexible and fast and has significantly boosted business," said John McManigal, sales manager for Budweiser distributor Eagle Sales of the Black Hills in a written statement. "With a limited inventory in the area, existing units will become more valuable and costs are sure to rise."
The first measure passed 8,874 to 4,556 (66.1 percent to 33.9 percent). It bans new digital billboards and restricts the size and spacing of new static billboards.
The second measure passed 8,635 to 4,542 (65.5 percent to 34.5 percent). It establishes a 20-year expiration date on sign credits, the city's currency for how sign companies can trade old signs for new.
Scenic Rapid City, led by Modrick and chairman Jim Petersen, formed this spring and circulated petitions to put the measures on the ballot, with members saying they were frustrated at a lack of city government progress to restrict billboards.
They spoke at civic meetings and raised money for mailers to spread their message that billboards are unattractive, harmful to the tourism economy and dangerous to drivers.
Lamar and Daktronics spent thousands of dollars to advertise their opposition.
"The initiated measures are misleading people," Rumpca told the Journal during the campaign, "and in my opinion the general public thinks this will include the billboards coming into town around Box Elder, and that is simply not the case."
He said on-premise signs, not affected by the measures, are a significant source of clutter in the community.
Scenic Rapid City members accused Epic president Brendan Casey of confusing the issue by saying the measures won't stand up in court, when the city attorney said he was sure they will.
The sign companies did not respond Tuesday to questions about whether they planned a legal challenge.
Voter Kris Hittle, an insurance agent, said the companies' message resonated with her.
"I guess I voted no because it won't get rid of any billboards," she said Tuesday evening outside her polling place at the Canyon Lake Senior Center.
"I don't like the billboards that are outside of town, and since it's not going to affect those, why have it affect billboards in town?" she said. Hittle said her daughter also planned to vote against the measures, saying Daktronics is a South Dakota business that hires graduates of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology.
Voter Maggie Abernathy, 25, said she voted in favor of the measures because they struck a good balance and allowed existing signs to remain.
"I don't think we need to eliminate them, but we do need to limit them," she said.
Other voters said they have had it with billboards.
"Rapid City needs to address the billboard issue," said Carol Robinson, 52, a nurse who said the signs block the area's scenic beauty. "It's out of control."
Contact Barbara Soderlin at 394-8417 or email@example.com.