Oppose Digital Billboards on Public Property

As part of its dragged-out process of rewriting the ordinances governing billboards citywide, the L.A. City Council Planning and Land Use Management Committee (PLUM) is about to receive a report on how the city can install digital billboards on city-owned property. Today I submitted the following memo for the record in opposition to this idea. If you don’t want to see billboards on city-owned buildings and properties, send an e-mail to the PLUM assistant: clerk.plumcommittee@lacity.org and ask them to add your message to the public record in Council File 11-1705.

To the Members of the PLUM Committee: You are about to consider a report on the idea of allowing digital billboards on City property. The Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight, representing the many thousands of individuals in every council district who care about the visual environment of this city, resolutely oppose any billboards, digital or otherwise, on city property. The reasons for this are at least fivefold:

  1. Most digital signs on city property will lie outside of any recognized sign districts, in less regulated zones, without the consideration afforded to signs inside such districts. Traffic patterns, immediate surroundings, and local property considerations will likely take a back seat to the fact that a possible spot for a digital sign is city-owned and thus a potential revenue generator. Revenue generation will, we fear, supersede many other local considerations such as environmental, safety, and aesthetics.
  2. Having digital signs on city property puts city officials in the position of choosing winners and losers. Advertising on city property carries, for good or ill, the impression of city approval. Having the power to decide who gets to advertise on city property opens an avenue for undue influence over city government business, possibly leading city officials to view more favorably any related proposal or matter before them. There is no basis for confidence that future city officials will resist this influence; they may, in fact, abuse this power.
  3. The assertion that public good can come from such digital signs on city property is far less than credible. There are many avenues for public service announcements in this day and age, without mixing such announcements with advertising at a massively unfavorable ratio.
  4. An increasing number of peer-reviewed studies link digital signs to driver distraction which contributes to accidents. Thus, installing such signs on city property works directly against the city’s Vision Zero regarding traffic fatalities.
  5. Because digital signs are very difficult to remove, what you decide on this question will stand for many years. As Abraham Lincoln said, “We will be remembered in spite of ourselves.” The members of this municipal government will be remembered for what they do in office, whatever their actions, political stripes, or persuasions. You are now determining what you will leave behind for future generations of residents of this city. For what would you like to be remembered? For bringing digital visual blight to numerous communities? For embedding yet more commercial appeals in an already oversaturated environment? For weakening the safety of our streets by implanting further distractions in them? To ask such questions, we submit, is to answer them.

Patrick Frank, President

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