How to Regulate Billboards

How many and what kinds of billboards we have will weigh heavily in determining the appearance of the city of Los Angeles, especially as the city hosts the Olympics in 2028 and very possibly the World Cup before that. The regulation of these structures is thus an important part of city government, but legislation regulating billboards has been pending in the council for eight years.
A Citywide Sign Ordinance, Council File 11-1705, is finally coming before the Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee on Tuesday, the day after Memorial Day. Fortunately, there is a template available for reasonable regulation of signs, and it deserves support.
The key issue is regulation of digital billboards: These are signs with hundreds of bright LED bulbs that change their message like a slide show every 8 seconds. There are few of them in Los Angeles currently, though more exist in Inglewood and other communities along I-405. You have probably seen them, or maybe you have even been distracted by them, as many studies have proven will happen. These signs are both very lucrative for sign companies and extremely bothersome to passersby, be they local residents, drivers, or pedestrians. More than 100 cities in Texas, hardly a hotbed of anti-business sentiment, have banned them entirely.
Coming before the PLUM Committee on Tuesday will be two visions for how to regulate such billboards. Back in 2015, the City Planning Commission drafted legislation that would restrict such digital signs to designated sign districts: heavily traveled areas zoned Regional Commercial such as Sunset Boulevard and LA Live. This is by far the better of the two options.
In contrast, the PLUM Committee under its previous chair José Huizar drafted its own version in late 2017 under the influence of the sign companies, which would allow digital signs on almost any commercial lot. For example, most intersections that how have traditional billboards could see many of them change to digital under this version. Not surprisingly, the committee chair benefitted from more than 100 free billboards, donated by sign companies, during his most recent re-election campaign.
The Planning Commission version (known as Version B Plus) is far more sane and sensible because it keeps digital signs in dense commercial zones where fewer homes suffer the flashing nuisance and traffic moves more slowly, reducing the risk of accidents and danger to pedestrians. If the sign companies favor the PLUM version, the people seem to favor Version B Plus. A total of 23 neighborhood councils have weighed in with community impact statements specifically favoring B Plus over the PLUM version; none has opined in the other direction.
The makeup of the PLUM Committee has changed in the last few months. We hope that the reconstituted committee will follow the express wishes of the people in this matter and support Version B Plus. The future appearance of Los Angeles depends on it.

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