By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Adds Dennis Hathaway, president of the local Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight, “This deal essentially drives a stake through the heart of the 2002 ban.”
Because the pro-billboard City Council has continually ignored the hard-fought 2002 billboard ban — for example, by granting certain companies the right to advertise on small billboards at city bus stops and on big new billboards in “special sign districts” like Hollywood, the courts have twice ruled that City Hall has squandered its right to ban other kinds of billboard proliferation.
In one case, U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins issued a preliminary injunction blocking Los Angeles from prosecuting a “supergraphics” company. In her ruling, she slammed Los Angeles City Hall for last spring approving two 76-foot-tall billboards avidly pushed by Jan Perry next to the 10 freeway, then trying to tell this nonpermitted supergraphics firm it could not follow suit.
In fact, Villaraigosa, the council and Delgadillo all ignored loud warnings that the city was creating a precedent with its actions last spring.
“It's very hard to imagine how the city can successfully claim that it still has the right to deny other companies the right to put up their billboards on city streets and freeways,” Hathaway says.
Activists like Hathaway see the Anschutz scheme as yet another sweetheart deal for a private company with close ties to many of the politicians who participated in last week’s vote. Others see it as a potential disaster in terms of visual blight, traffic safety and potential future liability if driver distraction leads to freeway accidents.
Janice Hahn scoffs at the idea that drivers will be distracted by the massive video displays to be erected at the Convention Center. “I have been driving in Los Angeles my entire life, and I have never been distracted by a billboard yet,” she says. (But, in fact, L.A. has almost no billboards along its freeways — until now. They are restricted by state law and federal rules designed to promote safety and reduce freeway distractions.)
The Convention Center billboard scheme puts the entire project under the lens of Caltrans because it is within 660 feet of a freeway. “The edge of the Convention Center is 330 feet away from the edge of the right-of-way of the road,” says Scenic America's Fry, meaning Caltrans has jurisdiction over those ads.
The state law enforced by Caltrans forbids quickly flashing signs that expose messages for less than four seconds and bans message-center displays within 1,000 feet of any other message-center display on the same side of the road. No display can exceed 1,200 square feet per billboard. The City Council has paved the way to give Anschutz 50,000 square feet of billboards, but it’s unknown if any single billboard violates state law, and Caltrans has not yet weighed in. (The bill voted down by the state Senate would have created an exemption for Anschutz and taken Caltrans out of the picture.)
If California fails to enforce those laws, the federal government can punish the state by withholding 10 percent — roughly $300 million to $400 million — in annual federal highway funds, meaning that with last week’s vote, the City Council has put Los Angeles on a possible collision course with the fiscally stretched state government in Sacramento.
With the legal mess created by Villaraigosa, Delgadillo and the City Council, in ignoring an existing billboard ban and selectively trying to favor certain billboard firms, the City Council’s three-member Planning and Land Use Management committee (PLUM) is finally taking some modest action.
Last week — ironically just hours before the full City Council cut its 12-1 deal with Anschutz — the PLUM committee passed a motion that would address the colossal problems that have been raised in billboard court cases.
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