Signs of the Time

If you drive around much, it doesn’t take long to figure out who billboard companies would like to see as the next city attorney. Three separate billboard companies have put up messages pitching for Deputy Mayor Rocky Delgadillo. Under city disclosure laws, they have categorized this advertising as an independent expenditure, meaning that their support is not authorized by Delgadillo nor coordinated with his official campaign.

Eller Media plastered a giant “Rocky” across 99 billboards before April‘s primary and 58 billboards since, a donation the company values at $299,250. Another billboard company, Regency, has contributed billboards worth $125,000. A third company, Sunset View Plaza, has kicked in a video promo valued at $3,000 on an electronic billboard. The total comes to $427,250. Delgadillo’s entire campaign -- which doesn‘t include the billboards -- has raised about $840,000, according to the most recent available figures. Delgadillo’s opponent, City Councilman Michael Feuer, has raised about $770,000.

Why does Eller go for the Rock?

“Because we like him,” said Ed Dato, Eller‘s director of public affairs. “He’s business-friendly.”

Feuer, incidentally, has led a charge against billboard companies during two terms on the City Council. Late last year, Feuer successfully pushed for a moratorium on new billboards. He‘d already authored a ban against tobacco and alcohol advertising on billboards near schools, parks and residential areas. Feuer is also against video-screen billboards -- which can rake in more than $1 million a year, according to one developer interviewed by the Weekly.

And Feuer is leery of a current proposal that would allow lucrative freeway billboards in exchange for removing some surface-street billboards. “Billboards are designed to distract people from the road,” commented Feuer. “Is it compatible with highway safety to have billboards lining the freeway?” Feuer also noted that many surface-street billboards are probably illegal already. “Why allow for the possibility of letting billboard companies trade illegal billboards for legal ones? If the billboard companies would produce a list of the billboards that have permits and those that don’t, we could have a conversation that mattered.”

A staff member from another council office commented that billboard lobbyists were “angry about Feuer‘s unwillingness to be more open-minded.”

The city attorney, meanwhile, is the prosecutor charged with enforcing L.A.’s billboard ordinances. He also will have the job of opposing Eller Media in court over the city‘s sign ordinance, which Eller alleges to be unconstitutional. In fact, Eller Media is actively pursuing litigation with the city over a number of its signs. It has cases pending in Superior Court, state appeals court and even the state Supreme Court. And it’s preparing additional litigation, according to Eller attorney Richard Hamlin.

Outside the campaign, Delgadillo has an additional connection to Eller. His Genesis LA economic-development project recently paid Eller $6,000 to install six billboards promoting Genesis. (Eller charged only for the installation, not for the actual rental of the space.) Delgadillo said he had no role in that transaction.

“I have absolutely no reservation about fighting Eller or anyone else” to enforce city law, said Delgadillo.

But Delgadillo has engineered an exemption to both the billboard moratorium and the city‘s long-standing ban on new freeway billboards. His plan calls for using revenue from new billboards to make two urban-redevelopment projects “pencil out.”

“It’s a win-win proposition,” said Delgadillo. “Advertisers receive exposure they value and neighborhoods receive the jobs and economic development they desperately need. As someone who grew up in a struggling neighborhood, I think it would be absolutely absurd to tell people we couldn‘t provide the jobs and economic vitality their neighborhoods desperately need because we didn’t feel they should be exposed to outdoor advertising.”

The City Council okayed the deal on a split vote. Feuer voted no.

“The billboard companies are betting a fortune that they‘ll be able to pay for a city attorney who’s going to be lax on enforcing our laws regarding illegal billboards,” said Feuer.

That‘s not it, countered Eller’s Dato. Delgadillo “looks at things from a business point of view,” he said. “I don‘t think that requires any more explanation.”


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