In 2002, the Los Angeles City Council reacted to a swelling chorus of complaints about illegal billboards and other “off-site” advertising signs by approving a program to hire a crew of inspectors to fan out through the city to inventory and inspect every single sign.
Those without permits would be taken down, and those modified illegally would be required to be brought in compliance with their permits. Then councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, who helped lead the effort to get the ordinance passed, said, “This is a historic day for Los Angeles,” although she surely couldn’t have foreseen how abject the ensuing history would prove to be.
Four major sign companies—Clear Channel Outdoor, CBS Outdoor, Regency Outdoor, and Vista Media—sued the city to stop this inspection program, which was to be funded by a yearly fee levied on each of the companies’ signs.
In 2005, the city reached a settlement with Vista Media, and in 2006 it settled with the other three companies. Among a number of settlement terms was one giving Clear Channel, CBS, and Regency the right to convert nearly 900 conventional billboards to digital, which they couldn’t have legally done under the 2002 ordinance.
Clear Channel, by far the most aggressive company, has been converting billboards since last year, and has an estimated 50-60 now in operation. And what about the inventory and inspection program, which the 2006 lawsuit settlements allowed to restart, albeit with a much lower annual fee? At a recent city council committee meeting, a representative of the city’s building department said they were hoping to get the program started by the end of this year. In the meantime, while digital billboards have been going up regularly, no billboards have been inspected, no illegal billboards have been taken down.
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