Koreatown “Sign District” To Be a Subject of Town Hall Meeting With Councilman LaBonge

Coming to Koreatown? Streetscape in Seoul, Korea

The proposed Koreatown Sign District will be discussed at a town hall meeting in the mid-Wilshire area on Wednesday, Dec. 3, according to City Councilman Tom LaBonge’s office.  The meeting announcement only refers to “obtaining feed back on possible capital improvement projects in the area” but an aide to LaBonge confirmed that one of the projects is the 300-square block sign district first proposed by Councilman Herb Wesson earlier this year.

That sign district, which would ostensibly allow electronic and other forms of signage not currently permitted by city code, falls within both Wesson’s and LaBonge’s council districts.  Its boundaries are 6th St. on the north, Olympic Blvd. on the south, St. Andrews Pl. on the west, and Shatto Pl. on the east.  See L.A Times article.

Sign districts were created in 2002, at the same time as the ban on new off-site signs and the city-wide inventory and inspection program, which hasn’t yet been implemented.  Only two districts have been approved—one in Hollywood and the other along the 10 freeway downtown—but a total of eleven, including the Koreatown district—have been proposed.   The original proponents of the sign districts said they would be a way for communities with special characteristics, such as Hollywood, to have new forms of signage in exchange for the removal of signage such as billboards that are considered visually blighting.

The Hollywood sign district has resulted in a huge proliferation of signage, particularly the supergraphic signs that often drape the entire sides of buildings.  And even though strict regulations were adopted for the district, the Central Area Planning Commission, which also has jurisdiction over the Koreatown area, has overruled city planning department findings and allowed major exceptions to regulations on size, height, and positioning of signs.

The second sign district, in an MTA bus lot at 15th and San Pedro Streets, was adopted for the sole purpose of allowing Clear Channel to put up digital billboards alongside the freeway, as a condition of dropping a lawsuit it had brought against the MTA.  (Some media reports have erroneously stated that revenue from the billboards will go toward establishment of a south L.A. park.   In fact, the MTA refused to sell the city surplus land it owned for the park unless the sign district was approved)  See CityWatch article.

The commercial streets of Koreatown are closely bordered by residential areas, and a proliferation of bright, intrusive electronic signage will have a huge impact on people’s homes and apartments.  Those who live in the area, or have an interest in stopping the onslaught of new advertising signage filling our visual landscape should make every effort to attend the meeting and make their voices heard.

The city planning department is now working on the specific regulations to be contained in the sign district.  When that process is complete, it will go before the City Planning Commission and City Council for final approval.

Dennis Hathaway

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