Last April, LA Weekly went to Los Angeles Superior Court to force the city to hand over public information about the locations of thousands of potentially illegal billboards erected without permits or formal safety inspections. Over the objections of Clear Channel Outdoor and CBS Outdoor, a judge ruled that the public had the right to these sought-after and plainly public lists.

As a result, the Weekly received two partial lists of billboard locations. A few weeks later, we secured a list of billboard locations owned by Regency Outdoor. These were posted on the paper's website [CBS,Clear Channel list one, Clear Channel list two,Regency ] along with a cover story about the city's failure to control the outdoor advertising industry in Los Angeles. The Weekly reported that city officials estimate there are roughly 4,000 illegal billboards citywide.

However, the lists we got in our court fight don't indicate whether the billboard is illegal or not. For the public or the media to find out if a billboard is up to snuff, they must take a trip downtown to the Los Angeles Department of Building & Safety and conduct a painstaking search through old microfiche.

Spurred on by the Weekly's coup in court, Jim Bursch, publisher of West LA Online, has now put these lists into electronic form and entered thousands of billboards, their addresses and owners, in a “database that can be viewed, searched and updated by citizens, activists and city officials.” And that means YOU, if you are angry about the thickets of illegal billboards in your area.

“Anybody can enter a billboard in the database,” writes Bursch, who was assisted in his colossal endeavor by an Asian data-entry company. “Citizens and activists are encouraged to inventory the billboards on their street and make sure they are entered in the database. People are also encouraged to upload photos of billboards.”

Billboards go wild along Westwood Boulevard

Bursch has 3,243 records in the database, mostly from long-secret lists that CBS and Clear Channel were forced to hand over to the Weekly and its attorney, Walt Sadler.

How bad is it in Los Angeles, which the Weekly discovered is the illegal billboard capital of the United States? Just recently, Bursch inventoried the billboards on Westwood Boulevard between National and Lindbrook. He found and photographed 64 billboards along the two-mile stretch. The process took a month.

Some of the billboards photographed by Bursch along Westwood Boulevard

His next step is to figure out how many of those billboards are illegal – the only way that other billboard-jammed cities, which are now years ahead of Los Angeles in the war on clutter, were able to fight back. Next, Bursch plans to inventory the billboards on Santa Monica Blvd between the 405 Freeway and Beverly Hills. Stay tuned!

Photos by Jim Bursch

LA Weekly