Los Angeles: 3.8 Million People, 498 Square Miles, Two Sign Inspectors

Since taking office last year, City Attorney Carmen Trutanich has been aggressively prosecuting sign law violators by filing criminal charges and civil lawsuits, but deep cuts to the Department of Building and Safety’s Code Enforcement Bureau could seriously hamper those efforts in the coming fiscal year.

The budget that takes effect July 1 includes salaries for only two sign inspectors, down from six in the 2009-10 budget.  Those inspectors are responsible for investigating all sign ordinance violations, by billboards and supergraphic signs as well as “on-site” or business signs.  Nobody knows the exact number of signs in the city, because many have been put up without permits, but estimates of the number of billboards and other “off-site” signs range from 6-10,000, and the number of “on-site” signs somewhere in the vicinity of 200,000.

Based on preliminary results of a comprehensive survey of billboards, it is estimated that at least 20 per cent of the off-site signs are in violation of the city sign ordinance.   As for on-site signs, inspectors say that observations indicate that as many as 50 per cent of those signs might violate the sign ordinance in some manner.

While the City Attorney has pursued sign scofflaws by filing criminal charges and civil lawsuits seeking millions in damages, attorneys in his office depend on city inspectors to investigate complaints and provide the details of violations that are critical to pursuing these criminal and civil remedies.

The Department of Building and Safety’s budget is primarily supported by permit fees, and doesn’t rely on taxes and other revenue raised from the general public.  The exception is the Code Enforcement Bureau, which is funded by that publicly-generated revenue.

In a report submitted to the City Council last week, the general manager of Building and Safety, Robert “Bud” Ovrom, called for the establishment of code enforcement fees to reduce the bureau’s dependency on the city’s general fund.  The latest budget calls for a total of 118 staff members in the Code Enforcement Bureau, down from 148  the previous fiscal year.

Dennis Hathaway

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