The political debate over allowing new digital billboards in L.A. has little to do with issues like traffic safety, light pollution and energy use. In fact, it’s not even a debate in the classic sense but can be characterized as an interplay of two powerful desires. Clear Channel and other big billboard companies badly want to put up the electronic signs on city streets and freeways and the City Council desperately wants to find new sources of revenue.
Travelers using the Los Angeles International Airport could be confronted with a sea of digital, supergraphic and other outdoor ads for products like cars, movies, electronic devices and alcoholic beverages if a recently proposed airport sign district wins city approval. The total square footage of commercial advertising signs to be placed on terminal walls, wrapped around columns and attached to the faces of pedestrian bridges and parking structures would be the equivalent of 550 full-size billboards.
The third and very likely final draft of a new city-wide sign ordinance is heading to the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) committee at a special meeting on Dec. 5. Thanks to widespread community opposition to provisions such as those that would have allowed off-site advertising in city parks, this draft contains stronger protections for communities and neighborhoods that could be targeted by new billboards, digital signs, and other forms of off-site advertising. However, significant problems remain.
A Hollywood property owner’s five-year quest to force the city to allow supergraphic signs on a Sunset Blvd. office building apparently reached an end last week, when the U.S. Supreme court declined to review a lower court ruling that upheld the city’s right to prohibit the signs. It is the second time in past two years the high court has refused to review a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling affirming the city’s constitutional right to ban new billboards and supergraphic signs.
In a refreshing change from sign companies suing the city, one of L.A.’s most notorious purveyors of illegal sign blight has sued a major L.A. law firm for legal malpractice, claiming that the firm caused the company’s demise by advising it to put up as many unpermitted signs as possible before the city amended its ban on the signs to pass constitutional muster.
Ever since the L.A. City Planning Commission approved a new sign ordinance requiring the takedown of existing billboards in exchange for the right to put up new ones in special sign districts, business and development interests have lobbied to defang this provision. In the two years since the commission’s action, city planners have steadfastly defended what most community members consider one of the most important elements of the ordinance, but finally they’ve blinked, and the latest draft of the ordinance drives a stake through the heart of the billboard takedown requirement.
The owner of the historic Hollywood Roosevelt hotel and a Las Vegas sign company have given up a legal battle for the right to display 6-story supergraphic ads to throngs of tourists and others on one of the busiest stretches of Hollywood Blvd.
Hope Springs Eternal: Hollywood Property Owner Seeks U.S. Supreme Court Review of Supergraphic Sign Ban
The owner of two Sunset Blvd. office buildings is asking the high court to review an appeals court opinion rejecting a claim that the city violated the owner’s constitutional rights by refusing to issue permits for 8-story high supergraphic signs on the faces of the buildings.
At last week’s City Council committee hearing on a new sign ordinance, a total of 29 community activists and neighborhood council representatives spoke of their concerns that weaknesses in the ordinance would lead to a proliferation of billboards and digital signs and open up public property, including city parks, to commercial advertising.
New York-based Fuel Outdoor was one of the first rogue companies that rode into L.A. with the following strategy: Put up billboards and supergraphic signs all over the city without regard for ordinances and requirements for permits, then sue the city when the citations start coming and get the courts to declare those ordinances–most importantly, the 2002 ban on new off-site signs–an unconstitutional infringement of free speech.