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Politics

Silver Lake Residents Protest Against Digital Billboard Blight

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Wed, Oct 15, 2008 at 7:01 AM

Dozens of Silver Lake residents gathered yesterday at City Hall to protest against a pulsating digital billboard that recently popped up along Silver Lake Boulevard throwing lights into neighborhood homes.

“Silver Lake is one of the most desirable neighborhoods in Los Angeles,” said Suzanne Feller-Otto to the City’s Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee. “In one step you have taken it down to the bottom.”

Music publisher Robert Balter, who lives just a half-block away from the electronic sign, which is located at 1701 N. Silver Lake Blvd. in front of Spaceland and a few eclectic shops, told the committee, which meets on the third floor of City Hall in the John Ferraro Council Chamber, that the only entity benefiting from the billboard was its owner, Clear Channel Outdoor. “The city gets absolutely nothing but a hundred dollar fee – if that,” he argued. “The city doesn’t get anything and the neighborhood gets an accelerated deterioration of their quality of life.”

Ric Montejano, who was sporting a Silver Lake tattoo on his back, told the vocal crowd that he took his protest to the street and picketed next to the billboard carrying a placard that read: “Honk if you don’t like this sign.”

“There has been a lot of noise,” said Montejano. “You wouldn’t get away with this in Hancock Park or Beverly Hills.”

Maryann Kuk, who has lived in Silver Lake for over 20 years, asked the committee, which is headed by longtime billboard advocate and Council Member Ed Reyes, to “stand up against billboard companies that don’t give a damn about residents.”

During the hour-long meeting, the PLUM Committee also approved the October 1 motion filed by Council Member Eric Garcetti that called for City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo to revisit the terms of the settlement agreement between the City of Los Angeles and Clear Channel Outdoor, CBS Outdoor and Regency Outdoor, which resulted in the city allowing the billboard giants to convert static billboards into 900 pulsating electronic digital displays.

Garcetti asked Delgadillo’s office and the City’s Department of Building and Safety to review CEQA laws and look for possible loopholes that would force all 850 additional billboards still to come, to go through environmental review. Garcetti introduced the measure after Silver Lake residents inundated his office with dozens of angry emails and calls.

Back in 2002, Council Member Jack Weiss called for a yearly billboard-inspection fee on billboard owners. That same year, then-Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski called for a ban on all new billboards.

The ban was barely passed by city council members when Clear Channel Outdoor, Vista Media, CBS Outdoor and Regency Outdoor filed lawsuits claiming that the city’s actions were unconstitutional. Instead of holding the billboard companies’ feet to the fire with an effective crackdown, Delgadillo agreed to “settlement” meetings with high-powered billboard-industry attorneys. Those meetings led to mega deals in late 2006 and early 2007 that allowed CBS Outdoor, Clear Channel and Regency Outdoor to digitally modify a whopping 900 plus billboards.

Since then, the “sweetheart” deal has opened up a Pandora's box of litigation, and court rulings that have allowed sign companies to ignore the citywide ban because the city itself is putting up advertising all over town while making exceptions with Los Angeles City Council approved “Supplemental Use Districts” or specialty billboard districts and variances.

Some anti-billboard activists are skeptical about Garcetti’s sudden interest in billboard blight. “If the city council is truly serious about revisiting the lawsuit settlement they approved in 2006, they need to hire outside legal counsel,” said Dennis Hathaway, president of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight. “It was Delgadillo's negotiations with the billboard companies that created this mess in the first place, and his credibility in the community is about as close to zero as it can get. Any advice he gives the city council at this point would be so suspect that they would be foolish to take it.”

Garcetti’s motion now goes to the full city council.

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