Update: May 20 vote postponed, tentatively scheduled for May 26.
The new citywide sign ordinance first debated by the City Planning Commission last January is now in the hands of the 15 City Council members who will decide its fate. The ordinance as written by city planners underwent changes each step of the way from that initial commission hearing, through three more commission hearings and two meetings, the most recent yesterday, of the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee.
So does the ordinance approved by the PLUM Committee bear any resemblance to the document originally produced by a team of city planners working under a very short time limit imposed by the City Council? Despite some heavy lobbying by interests wanting significant changes that would have weakened the measure, the answer to that question is, yes, the most important provisions of the ordinance have remained intact. These include:
- A continuation of the 2002 ban on billboards and other off-site advertising signs.
- A ban on all digital signs, including conversions of conventional billboards.
- The elimination of major exceptions to the off-site sign ban that have allowed companies to successfully challenge the ban in court.
- New civil penalties for ordinance violations stiff enough to hopefully deter the ongoing erection of illegal billboards and supergraphic signs.
- Much more stringent criteria for establishing sign districts where digital and off-site signage could be allowed.
- A mandatory takedown of billboards as a condition of establishing any new sign districts.
Despite hearing from a parade of lobbyists and business representatives warning that these new sign regulations, in particular the digital ban, the sign district provisions, and size restrictions on business signs, will seriously harm economic activity and cost jobs, the PLUM Committee didn’t tamper with those parts of the ordinance. And in fact, some additions were adopted that could make the measure stronger.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that the committee voted to “grandfather” all current applications for sign districts and discretionary sign approvals, an action that could potentially result in a huge proliferation of off-site advertising signs and digital and supergraphic signs in areas such as downtown, Koreatown, midtown, Panorama City, and the Cahuenga Pass/Universal City region.
Just one of these proposed sign districts, Metro Universal on the San Fernando Valley side of the Cahuenga Pass, includes upwards of 50,000 sq. ft. of full video and supergraphic signs that could advertise any products and services. If all of the sign districts won approval, as much as 100,000 sq. ft. of new digital billboards and other advertising signs could appear in the city.
However, if these applications for sign districts were subject to the new sign ordinance, more than 100,000 sq. ft. of existing legally-permitted billboards and other off-site advertising signs in the surrounding communities would have to be removed before any new signs could be put up. In addition, the proposed districts would have to meet other, more stringent criteria, including findings that digital signage would have no adverse impacts on surrounding residential neighborhoods and negatively affect traffic safety.
Also, at yesterday’s PLUM committee meeting, Councilman Jack Weiss proposed a number of additions to the ordinance. They include:
- Requiring the immediate commencement of a study of regulations to limit the adverse affects of existing digital billboards, by requiring the lowering of light levels and imposing hours of operation.
- Expanding the prohibition on digital conversions of existing billboards to include other “modernizations” allowed by the 2006 lawsuit settlement with Clear Channel and other companies, such as addition of second faces and “tri-vision” conversions.
- Prohibiting any sign districts from abutting designated scenic roadways.
The City Council will consider these additions at the May 20 meeting, as well as a motion by Councilman Tom LaBonge, to limit sign districts to the downtown area.
To read the text of the new ordinance and related documents, go to the City Planning Department website. Click on Plans & Ordinances, then Sign Code Revisions.
For related articles, see:
-New City Sign Ordinance to Be Voted on By the City Planning Commission: The Good, the Bad, the Missing
-Everything You Wanted to Know About Sign Districts: What Are They, Where Can They Be, Why Do We Need Them?