A lawsuit has been filed in L.A. County Superior Court seeking to force disclosure of the location, legal status, and ownership of every billboard in the city of L.A. The suit contends that the city’s refusal to make public this information gathered by a citywide billboard inventory and inspection program is a clear violation of California’s Public Records Act.
The lawsuit was filed by Elisabeth Sedano, a USC graduate student who has been researching the program as part of her work toward a doctoral degree. According to the legal action, Sedano made both oral and written requests to the city’s Department of Building and Safety for data gathered through the city’s Off-Site Sign Periodic Inspection Program (OSSPIP) but was given varying reasons why the information couldn’t be released.
According to the lawsuit, Sedano was informed by a building department official in June, 2011, that the OSSPIP fieldwork and permit research was complete and showed that there were some 6,000 billboard structures with 9,000 sign faces in the city, with approximately 1,000 of those structures either unpermitted or out of compliance with their permits. However, the legal status of those 1,000 structures could only be determined by the outcome of litigation over the city council’s decision in 2006 to “grandfather” an unknown number of illegal billboards as part of a lawsuit settlement with Clear Channel and other major billboard companies, Sedano was told.
In September of 2011, the lawsuit alleges, Sedano was told by another department official that the OSSPIP inventory was complete and that the data could be available to the public on the department’s website within a matter of weeks. When that didn’t happen, Sedano filed a formal request under the California Public Records Act for the data, and received a response to the effect that the department could only release the location and details related to the size of billboards that had been issued permits.
To get that data, which would not include any information about unpermitted or out-of-compliance billboards, Sedano was told she would have to pay a fee of $625.
When Sedano sent another letter in November, 2011, reiterating her request for the complete data, the department’s custodian of records responded that the OSSPIP results were only in draft form and could contain “inaccurate, unverified data.” When Sedano spoke to that person by telephone after receiving the response, she was told that the City Attorney’s office had ordered that nothing other than sign locations be disclosed.
According to the lawsuit, Sedano sent a third formal request for the complete OSSPIP data on Dec. 8, 2011, questioning the legal basis for denying the request. As of the filing of the lawsuit almost six months later, Sedano hadn’t received any response from the department.Dennis Hathaway