Whoa, what is going on in the world of the illegal billboard industry in Los Angeles? Over the weekend, Fuel Outdoor, the New York-based outdoor advertising company owned by a hedge fund, began dismantling its "movie poster" style signs around West Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.
The action by Fuel Outdoor comes just weeks after City Attorney Carmen Trutanich arrested a Hollywood building owner for putting up an illegal supergraphic on Hollywood Boulevard in time for the Oscars.
The city's sign law bans the installation of new supergraphics, or giant advertisements draped across the side of a building. After getting slapped with a stunning $1 million bail and spending three days in jail, 59-year-old Pacific Palisades resident Kayvan Setareh was released after he agreed to take down the advertisement of Dreamwork's flick, "How to Train Your Dragon."
That must have gotten the attention of some of the folks reaping huge riches off illegal billboards in Los Angeles.
Then, a few days later, a judge issued arrest warrants for four more people accused by Trutanich of putting up five illegal supergraphic signs at more Hollywood Blvd. locations.
One week earlier, Trutanich filed a 97-page lawsuit against 27 sign companies, sign installers and property owners for illegally putting up supergraphic signs in Los Angeles. It declared that the displays are public nuisances and seeks their removal as well as $10 million in penalties and fines and millions in "gross revenue generated by the erection of these signs," according to an office statement.
The much smaller Fuel Outdoor sign were installed without permits on street corners next to gas stations, bus shelters and retails stores. They look like the city's own small billboards advertising movies and clothing that began popping up all over Los Angeles near bus kiosks and bus benches in 2003.
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That year, the city began citing Fuel for illegally erecting billboards. Metro Lights (now Fuel Outdoor) filed a federal lawsuit against the city, arguing that it was unfair that City Hall could make money off its 3,300 "street furniture" advertising program, tens of thousands of city-approved street banners and countless wall signs, murals and super graphics on public property -- but forbid similar advertising on private property by a private firm.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that Fuel's reasoning was wrong -- the city can ban billboards, supergraphics and other signage. However, under former City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo -- one of the many Los Angeles City Hall elected politicians who took money from the billboard industry -- the city did nothing to force the illegal Fuel signs to be removed.
In response to the city's weak enforcement, the guerrilla action group called the "Renegade Sign Bandits" began posting fake "City of Los Angeles" seals and notices reading "illegal sign" on some of Fuel's estimated 200 signs around Venice and West Los Angeles.
Now, it looks very much as if Fuel's New York City hedge fund executives heard about the $1 million bail and jailing of another illegal advertising participant and decided to act. We're still checking on what prompted Fuel to obey the law, and we'll let you know.