Billboards in Hawaii? Nope, Not One!

Most Americans have become accustomed to the visual blight that is outdoor advertising, and that’s really a pity. When many of us who live in Hawaii travel to the mainland U.S., we’re jolted by all the billboards from the moment we step off the plane. That’s because they’re illegal here, and have been for some 90 years.
Most everyone agrees the strict control of outdoor advertising here is a good thing. After all, Hawaii’s economy is almost wholly dependent on tourism and, for the most part, it’s the natural beauty of these islands that brings people here. What if it were legal to erect a big billboard in the middle of this scene?
 In fact, the local sign ordinances extend to more than just what we think of as billboards. Signs advertising a business are only permitted on buildings in which that business is actually located, and the size of a sign is limited according to the size of the building. Also, signs are not permitted above the first floor of a building even if the business is on the second floor.
And, yes, business people chafe about the sign ordinances all the time. Years ago, when I worked for the Mayor of Honolulu, I was contacted by Melody MacArthur, the wife of actor James MacArthur, who starred for years as Danno in the original Hawaii Five-O series. She owned a shop in Kilohana Square, a small shopping center with boutique shops and cozy little restaurants that had trouble attracting customers because of its out-of-the-way location. The merchants there thought they needed a larger sign that was more prominently located and Melody was asked to call me for advice on how to make that happen.

 I, in turn, asked one of the senior Building Inspectors to go out to Kilohana Square, sit down with Melody, and give her some direction as to what the shop owners there could do to improve their signage and still stay within the law. Several days later, Melody called me with a report on the inspector’s visit. She said he not only had declined to offer any suggestions, but while he was there had cited three of the shop owners for having illegal signs.
I was embarrassed, of course … especially when Melody told me that the following night, at the quarterly meeting of the Kilohana Square Merchants Association, the members had voted 9-0 “to never again ask Jim Loomis for help.” I’m pretty sure that was all done in good humor.
Still, it’s a fact that to this day, there are no billboards in Hawaii. Without doubt, it’s because of our sign ordinances and I wouldn’t have it any other way.