In a weird twist, powerful CBS president Les Moonves is asking Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to oppose a possible vote by the Los Angeles City Council that Moonves sees as a threat to 101 digital billboards flashing ads all over L.A. -- close to 20 of which are bringing in revenue to CBS Outdoor.
The studio honcho complained in a December 9 letter that a motion expected today from Councilman Eric Garcetti was "unfairly punitive" to CBS' outdoor advertising business because it might ultimately lead to "the removal of signs lawfully modernized by CBS."
By "modernized," Moonves means that CBS turned a lot of its traditional, less intrusive billboards into digital ones whose 490,000 ultrabright LED lights can be seen for up to four miles.
And by "unfairly punitive" Moonves means -- well, we aren't sure what Moonves means.
Garcetti isn't exactly asking for anything radical, in his motion. He is merely expected to ask the City Council to agree to tell the Department of Building and Safety to comply with a Superior Court judge's order. That judge, Terry Green, has termed a 2006 City Council deal that gave CBS permission to switch traditional billboards into flashing digital billboards, "poison."
Moonves doesn't mention that the judge called the lucrative CBS deal from City Hall "poison," but a lot of L.A. neighborhood activists feel that way. Anti-blight activists were furious about the 2006 settlement deal between the City Council, on one side, and billboard giants Clear Channel and CBS Outdoor on the other.
The deal gave Clear Channel and CBS Outdoor the right to erect more than 800 glaring, digital billboards -- without a single public hearing, and with no ability granted to neighborhoods to fight the intrusive advertising, which is so bright it glows through closed curtains.
Moonves sounds pretty concerned about the city's budget problems, saying in his letter to the mayor that Garcetti's motion "could have the effect of directing precious city resources specifically to the removal of signs" that CBS has already transformed to digital.
Moonves oversees a company that in its second quarter saw profits plunge 96 percent. He tells Villaraigosa that "We are deeply concerned about the possible loss of this new technology, particularly in today's extraordinarily challenging economic environment."
Dennis Hathaway, one of the top Los Angeles activists who has decried billboard blight in Los Angeles, notes that during the expected discussion on this topic in City Council Chambers today, "It should also be interesting to see who votes for, and against, the Garcetti motion."
Hathaway, president of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight, adds: "Keeping in the mind that the Garcetti motion doesn't actually call for re-converting the billboards [from digital back to traditional]. If the council can't even direct the Building Department to study the situation, it will send a strong message to people about who has the power in this city."
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Sadly for Moonves, his plea may have fallen on deaf ears. Our jet setting mayor is currently in Copenhagen, Denmark, attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference.
Last month, Superior Court Judge Terry Green tossed out the city's backdoor settlement deal, which was written up by City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo and approved by Villaraigosa and the Los Angeles City Council--all of whom have taken campaign contributions from big outdoor billboard firms-- ruling it violated the law by exempting those conversions from any zoning regulations or requirements for notice and public hearings.
The suit, which was filed by Summit Media, claimed that the settlement agreement violated the constitutional rights of Summit Media and other companies that could not convert their billboards into digital.
Judge Green took under advisement the question of the legality of the permits issued thus far for 101 digital billboard conversions. Summit Media argued in court that the digital permits should also be voided.