Some Highlights (and Lowlights) of 2010 in the Local World of Outdoor Advertising

The past year proved to be an eventful one in the ongoing battle against an outdoor advertising industry that would like to turn the city’s public spaces into a brighter, denser, more inescapable gallery of sales pitches for movies, tv shows, fast food, cars, and other products and services.  Here are a few of the more notable events, presented in no particular order:

Time to Get the Hell Out of Town: After losing a four-year court battle against L.A.’s ban on off-site signs, New York-based Fuel Outdoor gathered up its toys, i.e., hundreds of mini-billboards, and headed for greener pastures.  Likewise, rogue sign companies like World Wide Rush and Skytag took down an untold number of supergraphic signs draping entire walls of buildings after losing an appeal in federal court.

Hanging On To the Bitter End? One of those rogue companies, Vanguard Outdoor, has mounted a new legal attack now before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.  Vanguard attorneys  pleaded unsuccessfully with a district court judge for an injunction to allow unpermitted supergraphic signs on three buildings to remain pending outcome of that appeal.  The reason?  The signs represented the company’s entire business, and without them it couldn’t afford to pursue an appeal.  Note:  The signs were taken down, but the company filed the appeal, anyway.

It Might Look and Walk and Quack Like A Duck But It’s Not a Duck:  Barry Sanders, president of the city’s Recreation and Parks Commission, argued that banners and wraps displaying “Yogi Bear” images identical to those used in promoting an upcoming Warner Bros. movie weren’t advertising anything and therefore couldn’t run afoul of city ordinance if placed in three city parks.  The City Attorney’s office, unsurprisingly, begged to differ, and the commission yanked the plan at the last minute.

I’m Mad As Hell and Not Going to Take It Anymore: Bruce Boyer, owner of a company responsible for many of the mobile advertising trailers cluttering city streets, interrupted a news conference held by the sponsors of a new law giving L.A. and other cities the power to ban the widely-despised trailers.  Wearing a black cowboy hat, Boyer loudly accused Assemblymen Bob Blumenfield and Mike Feuer of trampling on his constitutional rights.

Did you Really Think I was Kidding? City Attorney Carmen Trutanich warned a Hollywood building owner to either remove an illegal supergraphic sign put up to capitalize on the crowds attending the Academy Awards ceremonies or face arrest.   The owner, Kayvan Setareh, ignored the warnings, and Trutanich, whose 2009 election campaign included a promise to do just that—arrest sign law violators—then had the building owner arrested and held on $1 million bail over a weekend while the sign was being taken down.

Who’ll Speak For the Trees? Trees were surreptitiously cut down in right-of-ways of several L.A. freeways, apparently to improve visibility for supergraphic signs on nearby buildings.  In one incident, along the 405 freeway, the CHP even caught someone in the act.  Although purporting to investigate these incidents over the past year, Caltrans officials have had nothing to say about the progress of those investigations, including the question of who will be held responsible for the wanton destruction of public property.

Who Needs the City Attorney’s Office When You’ve Got Me? Mitch Menzer, a private attorney and registered city lobbyist, explained to the City Planning Commission why the sign district proposed for the new Wilshire Grand project downtown met all the legal criteria set forth in 9th Circuit Court’s World Wide Rush ruling.  This was after Michael Bostrom, the deputy city attorney who argued that case in the federal court, told the commission that he and other members of the office’s litigation team hadn’t been allowed time to study the proposal to determine if it indeed would be likely to pass legal muster.

If There Are Billboards In the San Fernando Valley, Why Shouldn’t There Be Billboards at Venice Beach? Councilman Grieg Smith, whose Valley district is far from the ocean, argued for seeking an exemption from a state Coastal Commission ban on off-site advertising in the city’s Coastal Zone so that bus shelters, kiosks, and other items of street furniture with advertising panels could be erected in the city’s Coastal Zone.  Pointing out that other parts of the city were required to accept street furniture, he argued that no community should get special treatment, perhaps forgetting that the California Coastal Act approved by voters 25 years ago does that very thing, enacts special protections for coastal communities.

Would You Run That By Us One More Time? Van Wagner Communications, another New York-based sign company operating in L.A., issued a press release announcing that it was removing more than 60 supergraphic signs it had put up on buildings around the city without obtaining required permits or undergoing inspections. Taking down the signs, the release said, was an“unprecedented display of corporate social responsibility” and part of an “ongoing effort  to work with Los Angeles City officials on a permanent solution to the City’s ongoing struggles in regulating the outdoor advertising industry.”

Dennis Hathaway

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