Environmental advocates are ramping up their efforts to combat the proliferation of what they call “weapons of mass distraction,” by urging local lawmakers to

get rid of the 100 existing digital billboards in the city.

Organizers against electronic billboards met at the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Westwood Boulevards, where three digital billboards, each containing hundreds of thousands of bulbs, flash different messages every eight seconds to unsuspecting passersby.

Dennis Hathaway, president of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight, compared the billboards' unsynchronized flashing lights to putting a video game in front of drivers as they struggle to keep their eyes on the road.

“People in the area are concerned,” he said. “There have been reports of people almost getting rear ended.”

The three West LA signs are among the digital billboards left standing in LA, since the city passed a temporary moratorium against further construction of the signs in 2008.

Activists are demanding that the remaining billboards – which were not part of the moratorium and were constructed as a result of a 2006 compromise between former City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo and Clear Channel and CBS Outdoor – be shut off once and for all.

Scenic America president, Mary Tracy, reasoned that the 2006 deal was “illegal,” stating that residents should have been given the opportunity to vote on the matter. “The people should have say in their visual environment,” she said.

At the end of 2009 a court judge agreed and rejected the settlement, yet the billboards remain.

The idea of ridding communities of electronic billboards has caught on in several parts of LA but especially in the westside, where 60 digital billboards – which equals the total number of electronic billboards for the entire state of Michigan – are erected.

“They're disruptive, their obstrusive,” said Barbara Broide, president of the Westwood South of the Santa Monica Boulevard Homeowners Association.

She too is concerned that the three signs on the busy intersection of Westwood and Santa Monica face drivers heading south on Westwood Boulevard. “Are they watching the road or are they watching the signs?”

The billboards aren't just visually distracting, said organizers, they can be loud too.

Jean Bushnell, of the Comstock Hills Homeowners Association, opposed the construction of an electronic billboard on Beverly Glen and Santa Monica Boulevards and likened the sound of the billboard's 24-hour-a-day fans to a “low-flying airplane.”

Hathaway, Tracy and their supporters are weighing their options and may take legislative actions to challenge the permits of the digital billboards.

While that action hasn't occurred, they are making some headway in their efforts to fight billboard blight.

Longtime digital billboard opponent and 5th District councilman Paul Koretz recently introduced a motion calling for a veto of last week's action of the Board of Recreation and Parks Commissioners decision to allow outdoor ads at three city parks in Westwood, Hollywood and Encino.

Warner Bros., which is promoting its movie “Yogi Bear,” offered the city $46,636 as part of the deal.

At the meeting, the park commission decided to rescind their action, said Hathaway.

Digital board opponents are heartened by outcome but know the campaign against digital billboards isn't over.

“No one here is declaring victory,” Koretz said. “We have far to go. In fact, the fight has just begun.”

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