The L.A. Building Department should not have issued permits for three digital billboards on Westwood and Santa Monica Boulevards, according to a unanimous vote of the West L.A. Area Planning Commission. The decision, which cannot be further appealed, means that the full-sized billboards with their brilliantly lighted, rapidly changing images that have aroused numerous complaints from surrounding neighborhoods are now operating without lawful permission from the city. The decision also throws into question the legal status of the other 90-plus digital billboards operating in other parts of West L.A., Hollywood, the midtown area, Venice, and the San Fernando Valley.
In a bit of drama at the opening of the hearing, Commissioner Joyce Foster recused herself, apparently because of pressure from Laura Brill, attorney for the billboard companies, who had raised the issue of a public statement Foster had made in 2006 criticizing the lawsuit settlement that allowed the erection of 840 digital billboards citywide. That left the commission, which currently has a vacancy, with only three members, the minimum needed to conduct business.
Brill also sought a last-minute continuance of the hearing on challenges brought to the billboard permits last year by two Westwood-area homeowner’s associations and the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight. Brill’s reasons, outlined in a letter to the challengers’ attorney, John Murdock, included the assertion that Clear Channel and CBS Outdoor were in discussions with city officials “to resolve the issues in dispute.” This came as news to almost everyone, since no city official has made any public statement about discussions or negotiations with the companies.