By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
City Hall’s handling of these initial neighborhood complaints soon took on an inept, Kremlin-like flavor: A billboard in Encino was approved by $202,577-per-year planning czar Goldberg, while a group opposing a billboard in Westwood got the shove-off — in a handwritten note from an obscure Building and Safety employee.
What on earth was going on? Despite his training, Fifth District City Councilman Jack Weiss, a former assistant U.S. Attorney who now represents both Westwood and Encino, couldn’t figure out who was in charge.
Weiss, who is running for city attorney to replace the termed-out Delgadillo, is the most outspoken billboard critic among elected leaders at City Hall. He is the only one who has consistently attacked the 2006 deal he once backed, although he has been joined of late by another Westsider, Rosendahl.
Weiss was furious about the Keystone Kops vibe in City Hall, and the inability of citizens to get a straight answer about how to challenge digital billboards. When he asked Department of Building and Safety officials for city records showing where the next planned digital conversions would appear, he was told that some of the details were under wraps — by orders from Delgadillo’s office.
The confused nature of the city’s oversight appalled Weiss. In a letter to Weiss, Delgadillo insisted that he had repeatedly told the building and safety workers that the planned locations of digital billboards were public information. But the refusal of city employees to provide those locations to Weiss, a powerful sitting member of the City Council, spoke volumes. (The balking employees eventually handed over the information.)
In October, Weiss filed a City Council motion publicly slamming the two different legal interpretations coming from Delgadillo.
In the case of 1333 Westwood Blvd., Weiss wrote, the city attorney’s office said that despite an existing ban against flashing signs, “the Planning Department could not limit or restrict the request for billboard digitization.” On the other hand, Weiss said, Delgadillo decided that at the Encino location, local restrictions on signage in the Ventura Boulevard Specific Plan had to be honored.
Nobody in City Hall appears to agree what trumps what, even as Los Angeles faces a tsunami of more than 800 additional digital billboards.
Yet, until the Silver Lake blowup, the leading advocates of more and brighter billboards — Villaraigosa and City Council members Jan Perry, Herb Wesson and Ed Reyes — were pushing hard for even more billboard proliferation, advocating special “sign districts” that, unknown to most L.A. residents, trump all local zoning and clutter protections.
Moreover, again led by Perry, Wesson and Reyes, the city this year allowed the construction of once-banned billboards that tower over the 10 freeway, and is considering approving 50,000-square-feet of digital billboards covering much of the taxpayer-owned Convention Center, and a sign district that would transform much of Koreatown into something akin to New York’s Times Square.
Residents have been shut down again and again if they complain. Cahuenga Pass resident Roberta Dacks immediately voiced her opinion about the digital billboard that popped up last spring on the heavily congested corner of Cahuenga and Barham boulevards, where it flashes images of big Disney characters. “Suddenly, we see this big blue thing at night,” she recalls, “as if someone’s plasma TV is outside our window.”
Dacks called LaBonge’s office, which managed to convince the billboard owner, CBS Outdoor, to turn the brightness of the half-million bulbs down — by a miserly 2 percent. According to Dacks, it soon returned to full brightness. “Maybe if it was in Griffith Park,” says Dacks sarcastically, “if the deer were disturbed by it.”
Patti Negri, president of the Hollywood Dell Civic Association, received a similar response from LaBonge’s office several weeks ago, when a digital billboard appeared, seemingly overnight, on Cahuenga Boulevard between Franklin Avenue and the 101 freeway, between the neighborhoods of Hollywood Dell and Whitley Heights. Negri said the “modernization” was particularly irksome because Hollywood Hills residents had attended a June workshop organized by Goldberg’s Planning Department to discuss ugly signs cropping up in Hollywood.
The overwhelming message from residents at the meetings was: no more billboards. “We understand in Hollywood you want glitz and glamour, but we have families and young kids,” says Negri, a Hollywood Hills resident. “We don’t need giant mummies flashing in our bedrooms at night. They have to know how vocal we have been. It’s just a slap in the face.”
“Why do you even invite us?” said a pissed-off Tammy Ehrenfeld. “Each and every community member has voiced their opinion of how they are appalled.”
Some council members are not used to being unpopular or tarred with an anti-environmental brush, and are acting largely, if not entirely, because of public outcry.
LaBonge has not returned a phone call to Ehrenfeld about the LED sign that has upset neighbors in Hollywood Dell and Whitley Heights. And Garcetti clearly doesn’t like his unflattering new image. He ran for office as a green candidate and lives the Silver Lake ethos — except that he has taken eight contributions from outdoor advertising companies, according to the City Ethics Commission. Garcetti says he stopped taking money from Clear Channel, Regency Outdoor and Vista Media after his first campaign, and claims "$500 doesn't influence you."
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