Community group wants city to take down billboard in front of school

Billboard near Wilson Middle School

SAN DIEGO - A community group wants the city of San Diego to take down a billboard advertising "responsible drinking" that is directly in front of a school.

"My first reaction was 'oh my God,'" said Maria Cortez, who was referring to the "Take the Pledge" billboard in front of Wilson Middle School. The Anheuser-Busch billboard is located at 40th Street and Orange Avenue.

However, it is not what the billboard says but who sees it that has Cortez fired up.

"To me, it sends the message it's OK to drink as long as you drink responsible," she said.

The billboard is owned by Clear Channel. Cortez told 10News it is not just against her moral compass but believes it is also against a local ordinance.

"It's in violation of code," she said.

Under the city's billboard ordinance, companies cannot advertise alcohol-related products located within 500 feet from a school, child care center or playground. Violators could be fined $250 to $1,000. Billboards that are not allowed to show those ads are marked with yellow "child symbols."

"Anheuser is violating city code because of the child emblem," said Cortez. "To me, that sends a message that Clear Channel doesn't care. As long as they get the money, they don't care."

10News measured the distance from the billboard to the school and found that it is 250 feet away.

Cortez spotted the billboard and called community advocate group SAY San Diego. They sent out members of the Latino Youth Council to assess the billboard, fill out a violation form and send it to the city.

10News consumer reporter Cristin Severance took their concerns straight to the city's Neighborhood Code Compliance Department. Senior code engineer Tony Khalil said they could not cite the company.

"The board is a public service announcement," he said. "The content on the board was reviewed by the City Attorney's Office. They determined it was a public service announcement. It's not an advertisement," he said.

Khalil said while the billboard is in poor taste there is nothing the city can do. 10News then called Clear Channel. 

"We know that taking it down is the right thing to do, so we will do that as soon as possible," said Marketing and Communications VP Jim Cullinan.

10News asked Cullinan if the company should have been allowed to put it up in the first place.

"No, we shouldn't have put it there and you can rest assured that something like this won't happen again in the future," he said.

A day after 10News called Clear Channel they replaced the Anheuser-Busch billboard with a Carl's Jr. advertisement.

If you have a problem in your neighborhood, send an email to 10News consumer reporter Cristin Severance at Cristin.Severance@10news.com.

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