Last week, the City's planning commission voted on a proposal that would tighten up the city's “specialty billboard district” laws. The plan to revamp the sign district ordinance came about after concerns that the city was frivolously granting too many sign districts to billboard companies.

The plan sets the minimum size of a billboard or sign district to one block or three acres, “which would have the effect of discouraging very small sign districts designed for one or two signs,” says Dennis Hathaway, president of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight.

The proposal would also require a finding that the billboards in the sign district wouldn't disturb neighbors outside the district or create any hazard for motorists or pedestrians.

“The sign district ordinance has clearly been used by politicians as a way to get around the city's ban on new off-site advertising signs,” says Hathaway. “By adopting these revisions, the commission is sending a clear signal that the intent of the ordinance is to reduce blight, not increase it.”

The idea to tighten up the sign district ordinance came about a few months ago after the planning commission was shot down by Los Angeles City Council Members who voted on a plan to establish a sign district in order to allow two 76-foot-tall monster-size double-faced billboards next to the 10 Freeway as part of Council Member Jan Perry’s plan to create a wetland park in South Los Angeles. The plan came about after the Metropolitan Transit Authority removed 14 billboards on Santa Monica Boulevard in 2001. Clear Channel, the owner of the billboards, sued. In exchange for Clear Channel dropping the lawsuit, the MTA agreed to create a billboard district on a bus yard it owns near the 10 Freeway. In the deal, the city got a nine-acre wetland park.

At the time, the planning commission warned that the proposed sign district would set an unwanted precedent and open the door to lawsuits and even more sign districts. Currently, there are seven sign districts in the works.

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