Last month, the LA Weekly published a cover story about billboard blight in Los Angeles. Among other things, the Weekly delved into City Hall’s failed effort to find and remove an estimated 4,000 illegal billboards blighting L.A., and its resistance in giving L.A. Weekly basic, public facts about existing legal and illegal billboards.
Plenty of U.S. cities have required billboard firms to hand over their inventory lists — a necessary step before activists, neighbors and inspectors can ID and dispute illegal billboards. In fact, Philadelphia posts its billboard list on its city Web site. That city’s Society Created to Reduce Urban Blight, or SCRUB, goes further, offering a billboard “finder” that highlights in red all unlicensed billboards. The Florida Department of Transportation maintains an “Outdoor Advertising Database” of the 17,000 billboards along its federal and state roadways. The database, updated monthly, provides the address, owner, height, number of “faces” and permit status — plus a recent photo.
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But in Los Angeles, the newspaper had to hire a First Amendment attorney to get an inventory list of CBS and Clear Channel's billboards from workers at the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety. Since the story was published, the paper has been inundated with letters and emails by community members who are upset that there is no public database of billboard locations. Until now. Recently, a website dedicated to keeping track of billboard locations has popped up. And Angelenos are encouraged to participate by providing addresses of billboard locations in their neighborhoods. According to the site owner, the database is being driven by one big problem: no public database, and no move by the city to provide one.