The Good, the Bad, the Ugly: Latest Draft of Citywide Sign Ordinance

The third and very likely final draft of a new city-wide sign ordinance is heading to the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) committee at a special meeting on Dec. 5.  Thanks to widespread community opposition to provisions such as those that would have allowed off-site advertising in city parks, this draft contains stronger protections for communities and neighborhoods that could be targeted by new billboards, digital signs, and other forms of off-site advertising.  However, significant problems remain.

-While the ordinance now explicitly prohibits off-site advertising in parks and public facilities, it includes an exception for those properties if they are within a new or existing sign district.   While no major parks, such as Griffith Park or the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area are within sign districts, there are smaller parks in proposed Koreatown, Metro Universal, and Warner Center sign districts. And future parks, such as one proposed for the Grand Ave. project downtown,  would not be protected from advertising if they were established in sign districts.

-While the draft requires a mandatory takedown of existing billboards in exchange for new off-site signs in sign districts, it allows two sq. ft. of new signage for every one sq. ft removed if the developer also provides community benefits, such as sidewalk widening, tree planting, etc. This could result in a large net increase in the amount of off-site signage in our city, which is contrary to the original ordinance approved two years ago by the City Planning Commission that required at least a one-to-one takedown ratio.

-A new provision in the latest draft of the ordinance would allow companies that erected or modified billboards in violation of their permits to apply for an “adjustment” of up to 20 per cent over the allowed sign height and area.  That means a full-sized billboard could be almost 150 sq. ft. larger and more than 8 ft. higher than legally allowed. This is a giveaway to the billboard companies that could have a large visual impact on our communities.

-Comprehensive Sign Programs, which were originally intended to allow special regulations for business signs in shopping centers and large “campus-type” developments, did not allow any new off-site signage.   But the latest draft pushes the door wide open, by allowing an unlimited amount of off-site signage as long as it isn’t visible from the public right-of-way or other property.   This not only could represent a proliferation of off-site signs, but could have many unintended consequences, such as the design of architectural features for the sole purpose of concealing billboards and other signage from the public sidewalk or street.

-The latest draft of the ordinance continues to “grandfather” applications for sign districts that haven’t been approved by the City Planning Commission, but that have been “initiated” or “applied for.”   A total of 16 of these are proposed for “grandfathering,” including ones included in large-scale developments downtown, in the midtown area, and the San Fernando Valley.  Many exist only as a councilmember’s motion, without any detail as to the number and kinds of signs, and there is no legal justification for granting them vested rights.

Read the latest draft ordinance here.


Dennis Hathaway

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