Is City Hall Bending on Billboard Ban?

After yesterday's packed and contentious planning commission meeting that was held to argue proposed changes to Los Angeles' exception-filled outdoor sign regulations, questions remain about the fate of 11 "sign districts" to be considered by City Hall.

A long-awaited report by the Planning Department released Thursday calls for sweeping changes to the existing sign ordinance including supposedly tougher regulations on "sign districts" that purportedly limit the areas where digital and other billboards can proliferate.

However, "sign districts" are special animals, introduced in 2002 after

the city banned all new billboards but let hundreds of new signs go up

in entertainment districts like Hollywood, and in areas with many pedestrians.


special exceptions to the citywide billboard ban have raised the ire of

anti-clutter activists, and now big-time land developers, land-use

consultants and their lawyers are complaining that the new plan

released Thursday could hurt pending projects whose designs incorporate

big, bright digital billboards and other advertising into their very architecture.

"This is not helpful," said Kevin Napoli, an associate with CIM Group, the developer behind the upcoming 12-acre Midtown Crossing shopping

center, which is being designed to include eight to 10 supergraphic

signs placed between Pico, San Vicente and Venice boulevards. He

insists, "The proposed amendments would prohibit and threaten

completion of the project."

"There should be a provision to protect people working on sign districts," said land-use consultant Craig Lawson, of the Figueroa and Olympic project. Lawson's project is located on a relatively small piece of property a block north of LA Live, owned by Iranian billionaire Sunny Astani.

Lawson's remark was aimed at getting the city to "grandfather in" projects already on the books at the time of the new rules. He says to comply with the city's latest proposal, which does not allow

"sign districts" to be located on such small pieces of land, "We would

have to add four or five blocks."

Astani's controversial project

includes a towering, 14-story animated sign approved by the planning

commission -- despite widespread ridicule. Another project whose plans for huge outdoor advertising could be hampered is the Metropolis,

a multi-tower hotel and retail complex on a small piece of land next to

the 110 Freeway -- possibly distracting tens of thousands of rush-hour


Planning commissioners, who seemed moved by the

big developers' arguments, ordered the planning department to rework

the ordinance by  February 19.

If history is any guide, City

Hall will allow exceptions to the exceptions. "Sign districts are a way

for politicians to help special interests maximize their profits at the

expense of the city's visual landscape," says Dennis Hathaway,

president of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight.


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