Getting it Wrong: An Open Letter to L.A. City Councilman Mitchell Englander (and his PLUM committee colleagues)

City Hall Stop Sign

Dear Councilman Englander:

At the August 23 meeting of the City Council’s PLUM committee, you publicly accused me of putting out false information in the articles I write about billboard and signage issues. Specifically, in asking a city official for clarification of a point under discussion, you said, “Because I want to make sure that when Mr. Hathaway writes about this, since he gets it wrong most of the time, that he hears it clearly.”

I consider this an attack on my personal integrity, because I always strive to be factually accurate and avoid taking things out of context or otherwise trafficking in misinformation. For example, before writing about PLUM committee meetings I almost always listen to the meeting audio, to make sure that I heard things correctly and that I accurately quote committee members and other speakers. I have a definite point of view about the signage issues the PLUM committee deals with, but that doesn’t mean I believe in using less than ethical and honest means to promote that view.

But your accusation was more than just an attack on me, it was an attack on the very idea that L.A. residents are entitled to be fully informed on the issues that affect them, in this case issues of billboard and signage regulation. That’s because the large majority of those residents can’t come to PLUM committee meetings to hear the discussion firsthand. Unlike lobbyists, billboard company representatives, and others who are paid to attend these meetings, most community people can’t take time off work, arrange child care, and make the necessary adjustments needed to attend a weekday meeting at City Hall. So, without someone reporting on the details of those meetings, they are denied the knowledge they need and deserve to form opinions and make decisions about the issues at hand.

I’m not paid, either, but I’m fortunate enough to be at a stage of my life that I can devote a significant amount of time to a cause I consider very important to the mental and physical health of communities throughout L.A. And an important part of that effort is to inform those citizens who want to know what their elected representatives are doing about billboards and signage but don’t have time to attend the many meetings held on the topic or read the many lengthy reports issued at various points in the deliberative process.

Unfortunately, your public statement at the Aug. 24 PLUM committee meeting tells those citizens, in essence, that the information they read online at the BanBillboardBlight website or in CityWatch or hear in public service programs on local radio stations is “wrong most of the time.” Doubly unfortunate is the fact that you didn’t specify a single instance of what you considered wrong, so it’s just an accusation put out there, deliberately or otherwise, to create doubt in some people’s minds that what they’re reading and hearing is factually accurate.

I have been writing articles about PLUM committee actions and deliberations, as well as those of the City Planning Commission and other government agencies, for almost nine years. In that time, not a single billboard company lobbyist or billboard company executive or employee has approached me and said that something I wrote was false. Not a single member of the PLUM committee, present or past, has contacted me to make that complaint. Not a single City Councilmember, not a single city planner or member of the city attorney’s staff or any other city official involved with billboard and signage issues has told me that something I wrote was inaccurate.

You surely understand that people come to meetings and otherwise involve themselves in community affairs, not because they are paid to, but because they believe in a vision of a better community and a better city. Those people deserve the respect and even the encouragement of their elected representatives, regardless of where they happen to stand on a particular project or issue. Those people deserve access to as much information as possible, so that they can make the kind of informed decisions that are in important part of the bedrock of a democratic system.

I hope you will take that into consideration before making unsupported accusations against someone who has volunteered his time and energy to disseminate that information as widely as possible and help make the system work the way it was intended.

Sincerely,

Dennis Hathaway

Failure to Get the Memo: New L.A. Bus Shelter Ads With Guns

Suicide Squad

Earlier this summer, the bus shelter pictured above displayed an ad for the movie, “Central Intelligence,” which depicted two men brandishing and blasting away with guns. But after complaints were raised about the bus shelter’s proximity to nearby schools, the ad was changed to a public service message featuring Smokey the Bear.  (more…)

Alcohol Ads on Billboards: Marketing to Youth?

Billboard just a building away from a community center for low-income youth.

Billboard just a building away from a community center for low-income youth.

In 2006, the Journal of the American Medical Association published the results of a large-scale study of the effects of alcohol advertising on youth drinking. The conclusion: Exposure to alcohol advertising on TV, radio, and billboards contributes to increased drinking by underage youth, which in turn contributes to such problems as poor grades in school, risky sex, alcohol addiction, and car crashes.

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Movie Ads, Gun Violence, and Smokey the Bear

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On Wednesday morning, people traveling busy Lincoln Blvd. in Venice could have seen the bus shelter ad pictured at left above while listening on their car radios to news of a UCLA professor being shot to death in his office. Whether or not that grim news would have triggered any reflection upon the propriety of using the city’s public sidewalks for a display of men blasting away with guns is impossible to know.

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Billboard Company Lobbying: Half a Million in First Quarter of 2016

Billboard company lobbyists Morrie Goldman, left, and David Gershwin. Clear Channel paid Goldman's firm $90,000 and Gershwin's $45,000 in the first quarter of 2016

Billboard company lobbyists Morrie Goldman, left, and David Gershwin. Clear Channel paid Goldman’s firm $90,000 and Gershwin’s $45,000 in the first quarter of 2016

Billboard companies spent $507,000 lobbying Los Angeles city officials in the first quarter of 2016, according to City Ethics Commission records. Those companies and their executives also donated a total of $9,100 to six city councilmembers running for re-election in 2017.

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Action Needed: L.A.’s New Citywide Sign Ordinance At PLUM Committee April 19

 

Sign Ordinance Urgent 2

The Los Angeles City Council’s PLUM committee is scheduled to take up the new citywide sign ordinance next Tuesday, April 19. This is a very significant meeting, because the committee will be discussing the ordinance for the first time since the City Planning Commission rejected several bad proposals previously made by the committee, as well as added some significant protections for communities fighting the blight of billboards.

Please send an e-mail to committee members urging passage of the ordinance as approved by the City Planning Commission, and if possible, plan to attend the PLUM committee meeting. This may be the last opportunity to make our voices heard in a public hearing before the ordinance goes to the full city council. And there will be heavy pressure to weaken the ordinance from industry lobbyists and others with a vested in interest in more outdoor advertising on our city streets. Click here for further details, contact information, and a sample letter.

Disconnection? As L.A. Ponders Allowing Digital Billboards More Evidence Questions Their Safety

Clear Channel digital billboard on 210 freeway

Clear Channel digital billboard on 210 freeway

The billboard industry’s PR apparatus generates a number of questionable claims on behalf of digital billboards. They support local businesses, they advance non-profit causes, they provide critical emergency information, they help catch dangerous criminals and find missing children. But the most dubious may be that digital billboards are no more distracting than static signs and therefore pose no hazard to motorists on freeways and busy commercial streets.

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Thumbs Down: Court’s Reaction to Billboard Company’s Plan for New Digital Billboards in L.A.

SM Blvd 4

Digital billboard in West L.A. in 2010.  It has since been turned off.

A Louisiana billboard company’s hopes to put up new digital billboards in a wide area of Los Angeles appear to have run aground in the California Court of Appeals.

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Clear Channel’s L.A. Billboards: Ignoring Outdoor Advertising Industry Code of Principles

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The billboard with the tequila ad is less than 500 ft. from the preschool and the church.

Several months ago, we pointed out the fact that a Clear Channel billboard on Lincoln Blvd. in Venice violated an outdoor advertising industry code regarding the proximity of alcohol ads to schools and places of worship.  That ad for New Amsterdam vodka was recently removed, but what’s displayed now on that 52 ft. high, 624 sq. ft. sign?  An ad for Camarena tequila.

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Loosening the Purse Strings: Billboard Companies Spent Millions Lobbying L.A. Officials in 2015

Lobbying 5

With the city’s legislative agenda containing such hot-button issues as allowing new digital billboards and granting amnesty to unpermitted and non-compliant signs, it’s little surprise that L.A. billboard companies spent almost $2.3 million last year lobbying council members and other city officials.

(more…)

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