If you're frustrated by the city's inability to control those Times Square/Vegas Strip-like digital billboards and towering, slab-sided “supergraphic” ads, there's a crusader on your side, and he actually works for us — unlike those other city politicians who seem to work for developers, media companies and billionaires.
City Attorney Carmen Trutanich has scored two victories against billboard blight, the most recent coming this week when a U.S. District judge dismissed a lawsuit against new, Trutanich-spearheaded restrictions on billboards by ad company World Wide Rush.
The supergraphic firm argued that it had “vested rights” to put up its ads despite a ban because a 2002 court case opened the door to some supergraphics and billboards. But the judge this week ruled that, in order to be protected under such rights, the company had to have performed substantial, permitted work on its display before seeking an exemption. Apparently, it hadn't.
The city's 2002 and 2008 billboard ordinances were struck down by courts because they had too many loopholes and exceptions, often for companies that were politically connected to city politicians. The holes proved to be bulls-eyes for companies like World Wide Rush. But Trutanich's answer has been an outright ban on new supergraphics and digital billboards.
In September Liberty Media Group, another supergraphic firm, challenged the new rule, which had been passed by the City Council, but a federal judge ruled that the ban was sound and constitutional. City attorney spokesman Frank Mateljan told LA Weekly the victorious rulings “deal with seperate issues, but we're slowly building to a head” on the outright ban of monstrous, hideous outdoor ads.
Trutanich hasn't always been victorious, however. Last month the city granted AEG, the company behind L.A. Live downtown, six sign permits for oversize displays that would otherwise violate the ban. Trutanich threatened to prosecute council members who didn't abide by the ban, but coucnil thumbed its collective nose at him and pointed out that they had granted AEG an exception before the ban went into effect.
Trutanich seems to have had it out for AEG, too, announcing that he has an ongoing criminal investigation into the Michael Jackson memorial at its Staples Center that cost the city $3.2 million in policing and street closures. He has threatened to get the money from AEG and made noise about the criminal probe, but the saga mostly left us wondering if the new C.A. is all bark and no bite. He's right. The city shouldn't pay for AEG's Michael Jackson show, which proved to be a deft marketing tool for the $200 million-grossing, AEG-benefiting Michael Jackson film This Is It. But so far AEG is mourning all the way to the bank while Trutanich froths.
But we'll hand it to Mr. T: Two victories out of three on an issue the public cares about — billboard blight — ain't bad. His swift and — and dare we say it? — almost quiet effectiveness in federal court has impressed us and has us wondering if the old city attorney, Rocky Delgadillo, didn't push back too hard against the ad companies on purpose.