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
Back in November 2006, Garcetti complained about the negative media reaction after the City Council unanimously approved the deals with the signage-ad giants. Garcetti spoke glowingly of Delgadillo’s agreement, and announced that 15 unseemly billboards owned by Vista Media in his own council district, along Echo Park Boulevard, would finally be removed.
Most never were. A few weeks ago, Garcetti’s inability to grasp the sweetheart deal he approved was featured prominently on KCET’s two-part series on billboard blight, which replayed a video of his warm praise for the deal.
Garcetti’s newly discovered opposition to outdoor advertising has activists noting that he — who threw a fund-raiser for Barack Obama during the Democratic National Convention — aspires to a higher office, possibly mayor. He is up for re-election in March.
“I find it rather interesting that Garcetti has gotten religious about it,” says Rusty Millar, co-chairman of the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council. “Well gee, hello, the fight against billboards began with Lady Bird Johnson. The only one who benefits is the owner — and the council member who gets the donation.”
In October, the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management committee unanimously passed Garcetti’s resolution that asked the city attorney whether there is any way, now, to subject LED billboards to environmental review. Fed up Silver Lakers were on hand to protest Garcetti’s handling of events to date. “Silver Lake is one of the most desirable neighborhoods in Los Angeles,” raged area local Suzanne Feller-Otto. “In one step, you have taken it down to the bottom.”
Music publisher Robert Balter, who lives a half-block from the LED sign, told the committee, which meets on the third floor of City Hall in the John Ferraro Council Chamber, that the only entity to benefit was Clear Channel Outdoor. “The city gets absolutely nothing but a $100 fee — if that,” he said. “The city doesn’t get anything and the neighborhood gets an accelerated deterioration of their quality of life.”
On October 15, the city’s Planning Commission adopted a preliminary motion to temporarily ban the proliferation of LED billboards while city officials study a possible rewrite of loose regulations that have left L.A.’s streets among the ugliest in the nation.
City Planning Commission President Jane Ellison Usher repeated what the anti-billboard activists have been asking for months: What benefits did Los Angeles residents get from City Hall’s 2006 deal? “That question alludes many of us,” said Usher to the crowd of billboard protesters. She also attacked the City Council’s recent decision — sought by Councilwoman Jan Perry — to allow four ultrabright billboards along the 10 freeway, where billboards have long been banned. Usher said she was “tired of the city of Los Angeles being the doormat of the billboard industry.”
After hearing these and other attacks, Delgadillo surprised everyone, asking the City Council to adopt immediately a six-month ban on all new billboards, including digital and supergraphics, so the city can “consider legislative changes to the city’s entire” set of toothless laws.
Delgadillo’s office says it hopes to adopt “time, place and manner” restrictions that might be superimposed upon the original sweetheart deal or, perhaps, come up with modest new rules, such as requiring bright billboards to be a certain distance from homes.
Having repeatedly brought City Hall to its knees while smaller cities like Seattle and Houston hold firm, the billboard giants are probably not too worried about the proposed billboard moratorium.
The Council’s penchant for torpedoing its own anti-clutter laws by continually approving exceptions — like seven new “sign districts” sought by Perry, Hahn and Wesson — is expected to continue apace once the moratorium is lifted.
Already, city leaders are weakening over the proposed “moratorium,” with Villaraigosa’s Planning Commission approving 26 possible “exemptions” just last week.
Knowing how weak City Hall is, the billboard giants “will almost certainly file a lawsuit,” says Scenic America’s Fry. “You can count on it. There is no more litigious industry than the billboard industry. They will do everything they can to protect their interests.”
But every-day Angelenos are working to protect their interests, too. On November 5, the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council Governing Board, meeting at Micheltorena Street Elementary School, voted to strongly oppose digital billboards near neighborhoods, “due to the adverse impact and diminished quality of life,” according to their statement. As Silver Lake resident Elizabeth Bougart-Sharkov explains, “The intent of digital billboards, with their bright lights and incessant motion, is to distract the attention of drivers and pedestrians.”
Miles away in Westwood, Broide says, “This is an issue having to do with the beauty of the city. They are an assault to our privacy and landscape. Like all scourges, when they start to spread and people start becoming alarmed, action is hopefully taken.”