By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Tipped off by city employees, Clear Channel and CBS promptly sought an injunction to prevent the Weekly from getting the List.
In a letter to the Weekly, an attorney representing Clear Channel Outdoor and CBS Outdoor questioned the List’s “news value.” Then, perhaps under the misimpression that they are now part of City Hall, the two corporations informed the Weekly that they wouldn’t object if the city released very, very broad public data — such as how many citizen complaints were filed against all billboards in 2007.
Pissed off that building department officials — and Delgadillo’s office as well — had alerted the two corporations to the newspaper’s request for public information, a month ago Weiss and Greuel asked Delgadillo why the List, ordered by the council more than a year ago, had not been produced.
“They can’t do enforcement if they don’t have the inventory [list]!” howls Scenic Houston’s Lloyd. “It is standard operating procedure for a city to ask a billboard company to file their inventory every year.... It’s not a shocking requirement.”
Lloyd erupts in more laughter over the absurdity of the excuses given — and accepted — within Los Angeles City Hall. Hoots Lloyd: “It is an asset of the company!”
Philadelphia posts its billboard list on its city Web site, www.phila.gov. That city’s Society Created to Reduce Urban Blight, or SCRUB (www.urbanblight.org), goes further, offering a billboard “finder” that highlights in red all unlicensed billboards. The Florida Department of Transportation maintains an “Outdoor Advertising Database” of the 17,000 billboards along its federal and state roadways. The database, updated monthly, provides the address, owner, height, number of “faces” and permit status — plus a recent photo.
“It has turned out to pay dividends for us,” says John Garner, of the Florida Department of Transportation. “If [billboard firms] know what we have in the database, it reduces litigation and collection time.”
In a landslide vote in 2002, San Francisco citizens approved Proposition G to ban all new billboards and require the companies to hand over their inventory lists. But when a nonprofit group sought the lists in 2007, CBS and Clear Channel, using the rolling litigation strategy that has let them operate with impunity in L.A., persuaded a judge to issue a restraining order.
On April 2, a Los Angeles jurist saw things differently. Judge James Chalfant rejected CBS Outdoor and Clear Channel Outdoor’s claim that billboard locations and other information are a trade secret not to be shared with the public or media. Chalfant told the two ad giants: “Your competitor has the same right to the list.”
But the powers-that-be found a way around Chalfant’s order. Last month, city bureaucrats handed the Weekly a heavily “redacted spreadsheet” in which each company provided the street addresses of more than 1,500 billboards they own — but did not indicate which ones violate the rules.
Five weeks ago, Rocky Delgadillo was the guest of honor at a party hosted by veteran billboard lobbyist Ken Spiker Jr. While guests snacked on gourmet cheeses in the opulent patio garden of the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, Hathaway and a handful of activists picketed on Doheny Drive, carrying signs that read: “Rocky Sold Us Out,” “Illegal Billboards Must Go” and “More Sky Less Signs.”
After Delgadillo’s handler, Nick Velasquez, tried to appease the ragtag band, telling a Channel 11 reporter that the city attorney is not a billboard advocate, a strangely jolly Delgadillo joined the protestors on the sidewalk, declaring that the soiree unfolding inside wasn’t even “about” billboards.
Clearly enjoying the rare attention from journalists, he jovially pledged, “I am on your side ... I have a bill in Sacramento ... I need the facts ... Let’s get together and solve this problem.” One activist called out, “What about the appearance of this?” referring to his campaign help from the billboard industry and his decision to associate with billboard lobbyist Spiker. Hollered another: “When the settlement was made, it was made behind closed doors!”
“No, it wasn’t,” retorted Delgadillo. Before ducking back inside, he added, “and thanks for being here.”
Delgadillo is a favorite target of billboard detractors for talking big but rarely acting. Last year, a month after City Hall’s quiet settlement with billboard firms, Delgadillo announced at a splashy press conference “tough new legislation” to close loopholes that protect owners of illegal billboards if they have not been cited in five years.
“He didn’t make a peep about it again,” Hathaway recalls. “He had such a bad reputation on these lawsuit settlements, he was trying for some good PR. He gets some media coverage, then lets it twist in the wind and die.”