Seven years ago, just a few days before Christmas, a construction crew pulled up to a lot on the north side of the 110 freeway in downtown L.A. and proceeded to erect a 60 ft. high, double sided billboard. Less than 50 ft. from the freeway in the Staples Center/L.A. Live area, its two 700 sq. ft. faces would broadcast ads for such products as fast food, computers, and financial services to nearly 300,000 motorists every day.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What a difference a dozen years makes. Back in 2002, L.A. City Councilman Hal Bernson called for the removal of an unpermitted billboard in his San Fernando Valley district and the prosecution of its owner. But in 2014, the councilman now representing that district, Mitchell Englander, called for granting “amnesty” to that billboard and almost 1,000 others the city has identified as either lacking permits or having been altered in violation of their permits.
A dozen years ago, a company called MetroLights put up hundreds of unpermitted advertising signs that mimicked the legal bus shelter and kiosk signs on public sidewalks. A few years later scofflaw companies named SkyTag, World Wide Rush, and Vanguard draped buildings all over the city with multi-story supergraphic signs. Now an unknown company is blighting the landscape with unpermitted advertising signs on plywood walls thrown up around businesses, churches, and other sites.
Students coming to Animo Venice Charter High school by bus from areas like Inglewood and South L.A. get off at a stop on Venice Blvd. and walk a half mile north on Lincoln Blvd. to the school campus. One a recent school day, this is what they’d have seen on their way to morning classes.
In June of this year, Clear Channel Outdoor donated $1,500 to L.A. City Councilman Mitchell Englander’s campaign for County Board of Supervisors in the 2016 election. That same month, a lobbying firm that represents the company donated the same amount, the maximum allowed, although such a contribution would have been illegal if Englander was running for a city rather than county office.
At a meeting of the L.A. City Council’s PLUM committee on Dec. 16, 2014, Councilman Mitchell Englander told his fellow committee members that the city should grant “amnesty” to almost 1,000 billboards that either lacked permits or had been altered in violation of their permits. Failure to do this, he claimed, would embroil the city in time-consuming, expensive litigation.