Our View: New sign not a bad idea for Auburn

Our View
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Capitalizing on $60,000 in redevelopment monies and proposing to build an electronic sign along Auburn’s stretch of Interstate 80 are both good ideas. There’s a very really threat that the city’s redevelopment funds will quickly be snatched away by the state and it’s a good move on behalf of the Auburn Urban Development Authority, which is made up of City Council members, to find a way to use that chunk of taxpayer change for the local good. The city should move forward with plans to use the money but should do so using the same taxpayer-protection processes normally used when planning to spend public money. One idea that was recently proposed is to purchase and build an LED sign at the end of Reamer Street, which sits next to the freeway in Auburn. The authority allocated the money for that project but it’s subject to final approval from City Manager Bob Richardson and the City Council. The sign would be used to let motorists charging up the mountain know about any community events and is a flashy way to put Auburn out there to draw in visitors, sales and sales tax dollars. News of a possible sign has raised concern about whether it’s in character with Auburn’s image and if there are other city projects – like road paving – that are more deserving of the funds. These are valid concerns. If there are other projects the $60,000 could fund, city staff should put those options out there as soon as possible at a City Council meeting and let residents sound off. But before residents jump to pull the plug, they should think about the benefits of having a modern and effective way to attract more visitors and more tourist dollars into Auburn. Every weekend, especially in the winter, there is a mass of Bay Area residents traveling up to Lake Tahoe’s ski resorts. While the likelihood of someone in a car pulling over right away upon seeing a bright flashing screen promoting Auburn’s stellar bike-riding trails to ride one is slim, there is a benefit of planting that seed in their mind. Maybe next weekend that same motorists would rather travel half the distance but still enjoy the outdoor recreation Auburn has to offer. Or come back during the summer months to take on the mountain bike trails. Last weekend the Old Town Business Association hosted its annual Taste of Chocolate event. Could that have been an event advertised on the electronic sign Thursday, Friday and Saturday, encouraging drivers to take a break from the drive down the mountain Sunday and stretch their legs walking around Old Town? Part of selling the sign, however, or any other proposed use of the funds, relies on the City Council and city staff putting forward a well-thought-out plan and realistic cost of a project. City staff should also define what kind of content can go on the sign. Can it only promote community events? Can businesses buy ads and where would that ad money go? If it cannot be used for business advertisers’ content, explain why. While the possibility of volunteers constructing the sign or finding a business to donate its services has been put out there, that doesn’t seem like a good option for something that would be placed so prominently for residents and visitors to see. Based on Monday’s meeting, it looks like a sign project is somewhat in the conceptual phase but if it gets the OK, it should go out to bid. It’s good the city will go through this process and they should choose the most professional presentation for the best price. Yes, there is a sense of urgency to act fast or Auburn will lose redevelopment monies. It’s good there is a start to the conversation as to how to use the funds, but the city still needs to take the time to follow through and thoughtfully use that money.