The First Annual Ban Billboard Blight Awards

Since there are plenty of year-end awards given to people and organizations doing good works, we thought we’d start an annual (for 2009, anyway) list of those in the world of outdoor advertising here in L.A. whom we believe to be particularly deserving of recognition for less than felicitous deeds.

  • The  Sumo Award,  for throwing one’s weight around in the most obvious way:

This award is shared by Tim Leiweke, the head of AEG (owner of Staples Center and L.A. Live) and Leslie Moonves, president of CBS.  Leiweke appeared before the city council to warn of dire consequences if the city didn’t immediately issue permits for six off-site signs at L.A. Live, and Moonves wrote the mayor urging him to do everything he could to stop the city council from any action that might affect the company’s digital billboards.  (It should be noted that councilmembers rushed to Leiweke’s aid, but clearly snubbed Moonves.  A possible explanation is that the mayor was out of town, schmoozing with other international figures at the Climate Change conference in Copenhagen, and wasn’t able to throw his own weight around.)

  • The “Huh?” Award, for the lamest attempt to sway a public official:

There were many worthy candidates for this award, but the winner was Laura Brill, attorney for Clear Channel and CBS Outdoor, who appeared at a Zoning Administrator’s hearing on challenges to permits for three digital billboards in the Westwood area.  To illustrate that the billboards have no more visual impact than a conventional billboard, Brill showed video of one of the billboards shot in (drum roll, please)  broad daylight.

  • Your Nose is Growing Longer Award (self-explanatory):

Again, more than one worthy candidate, but the clear winner was City Councilwoman Jan Perry, who claimed at an August meeting that she had helped get 35 billboards removed from the city’s west side.  She was apparently referring to the fact that almost 10 years ago, eight billboards with a total of 14 faces were removed from the median of Santa Monica Blvd. in advance of a street widening project.  The median, a former railroad-right-of-way, was owned by the MTA, which terminated the billboard company leases.  What was Perry’s role, and how did the number increase fourfold?  You’ll have to ask her.

  • The Rational Self-Interest Award (also know as the Ayn Rand Prize):

To members of the IBEW who appeared at several public meetings to argue that jobs would be lost and careers cut off in the bud if the city adopted a 90-day moratorium on new digital billboards and other off-site signs.  No figures were given on how many electrician’s apprentices would have to abandon their dreams during that 3- month period, nor did anyone ask what would happen to the jobs of those who now put up the copy on conventional signs if hundreds were converted to digital.

  • The Enron Memorial Corporate Citizenship Award, Local Division:

This goes to CIM Group, which got millions from the city to help develop the Midtown Crossing shopping center, then told a community group that the site would remain a dusty hole in the ground if it wasn’t allowed to put 15,000 sq. ft. of off-site advertising signs on the outer perimeter of the property.  The company also allowed an illegal supergraphic sign to be put up on an historic building in Hollywood, and took it down only after being threatened with loss of a significant tax break.   And for a time, another building in Hollywood was festooned with five supergraphic signs, even though the company had an agreement with the city allowing only two.

  • The Enron Memorial Corporate Citizenship Award, National Division:

To McDonalds, Chase Bank,  Disney, Pepsi, the CW Network, and all the other advertisers who allowed their products and services to be marketed on illegal signs, some covering windows, blocking tenants’ light and creating potential fire hazards.  A special mention goes to McDonald’s for its “McCafe” coffee drinks promotion featuring a multi-story inflatable cup protruding from the walls of buildings, and Chase Bank, which launched its advertising campaign after receiving billions from the U.S. Government in bailout funds.

And finally…

  • The Bernie Madoff (or we’ll do anything for money) Award:

To the MTA, which rolled out buses wrapped with ads showing actors smoking, and allowed 75 ft. high digital billboards to be put on its bus lot next to the 10 freeway downtown.

Dennis Hathaway

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