Will the long-overdue billboard fee inspection program start at long last? Don’t count on it.

On May 27, Los Angeles’ Department of Building and Safety is expected to update the Planning & Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee on the status of the city’s billboard inspection program. That sounds like good news. However, building officials are infamous for blowing off City Hall’s requests to inventory thousands of legal and illegal billboards bristling along the streets.

At the last PLUM committee meeting in February, building officials said they were working on the fee and inspection program. The problem is they said the same thing last December. Both times, Department of Building and Safety general manager Andrew Adelman claimed that “due to various litigation actions” the program was at a stand still.

However, the LA Weekly reported in a cover story last month that there was no court order or injunction preventing the city from starting the program approved by City Council members six long years ago.

Back in 2002, Councilman Jack Weiss called for a yearly billboard-inspection fee on billboard owners. At the time, building officials estimated that there were around 4,000 illegal billboards in the city.

Weiss had some pretty simple questions: Who owned them? Which ones were illegal?

But a month later, outdoor advertisers Vista Media, Regency, CBS Outdoor and Clear Channel Outdoor won a federal injunction to stop the inspection program, on the grounds that it violated their constitutional rights and that the $314 fee was excessive.

But then the federal Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reversed the judge in 2003, ruling that the billboard firms failed to show that a “fee” increase would cause them “constitutional harm.” It was the biggest victory against the billboard industry in Los Angeles, opening the way to finally create a list of lawless billboards and shut down the practice.

But it never happened. The billboard inspection program didn’t take off.

Instead of holding the billboard companies’ feet to the fire with an effective fee, inspection plan and crackdown, City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo agreed to “settlement” meetings with high-powered billboard-industry attorneys. Those meetings led to mega deals in late 2006 and early 2007 that allowed CBS Outdoor, Clear Channel and Regency Outdoor to digitally modify a whopping 800 plus billboards.

In exchange, the Department of Building and Safety could start its fee inspection program without the threat of another lawsuit by the billboard giants.

However, we are still waiting. Currently, Department of Building and Safety officials don’t even enforce the $186 “inspection fee” on each legal and illegal billboard.

So what is the hold-up? Will we find out next week?

Stay tuned.

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