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.
The billboard pictured above on Olympic Blvd. In L.A.’s Koreatown area is 16 feet higher than allowed by its permit, according to city inspection records. However, the sign owned by Outfront Media is nowhere to be found on a list of 391 billboards the city says have been altered in violation of their permits.
People who have followed the twist and turns of the city’s long-running billboard wars may be surprised to learn that the Los Angeles City Planning Commission is tentatively scheduled to discuss a new citywide sign ordinance at its meeting on Sept. 24. Why surprised? Because all the way back in 2009 the commission held three lengthy public hearings on that very same ordinance before approving it and sending it on to the City Council.
Los Angeles billboard companies and employees have contributed more than $78,000 to candidates running for six City Council seats in the March 3 primary election, according to the latest City Ethics Commission reports.
Suppose, for a moment, that you own a house and decide to add on a couple of rooms. You know you’re legally required to get a permit but you figure you won’t get caught so you don’t bother with the hassle and expense of getting plans approved and the work inspected. And you’re lucky, because more than five years go by before you hear a knock on the door and it’s an inspector from the city building department wanting to see your permit.
At a Dec. 16 meeting of the L.A. City Council’s PLUM committee, Councilman Mitchell Englander proposed that some 1,000 billboards that either lack permits or have been altered in violation of their permits be legalized. This “amnesty” as Englander called it is necessary because any attempt to enforce the law against Clear Channel and other sign companies would land the city in court for years to come. Englander said “there’s no question in my mind” that the city would face litigation over the issue and that such litigation would “tie up incredibly valuable resources.”
Christmas came early for Clear Channel and other billboard companies when a Los Angeles City Council committee decided Tuesday to press forward with plans that could allow hundreds of new digital billboards throughout the city and grant “amnesty” to more than 1,300 billboards that are either unpermitted or in violation of their permits.
Now that Superior Court judge Luis Lavin has ruled that L.A.’s 2002 ban on new billboards violates the California Constitution, what’s next? Are new billboards going to be sprouting like hothouse mushrooms along the city’s major thoroughfares? Especially digital billboards, with their ability to attract the attention of drivers with their Jumbotron-like graphics and rapidly changing ads for cars, fast food, booze, electronic gadgets, and what seems like every movie and TV show about to hit theaters and home entertainment centers?
Los Angeles has been trying to shed its label as the country’s billboard capital, but Clear Channel and other companies pushing to put up new digital billboards got a major boost this week when a Superior Court judge ruled that the city’s ban on new off-site signs violates the free speech guarantee of the California state constitution.
When an advertisement touts a company’s ethical values, it’s always wise to remember that you are being sold something.