A group of Westside residents, led by a Venice anti-blight activist, is challenging what they believe to be a loophole in a proposed Los Angeles sign ordinance that they feel could have drastic consequences to local neighborhoods if it is approved.

Dennis Hathaway, a Venice resident who heads the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight, says there is a provision in the recommended sign law that would permit outdoor signage in city parks, including on Venice Beach.

“This (loophole) definitely opens the door (for private advertising),” he said.

In a letter to the City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee, city Planning Director Michael LoGrande outlines a plan designed to generate revenue for the city’s coffers by implementing a sign program in city-owned facilities, among other locations.

“One feature of the draft ordinance currently being considered and that might apply to the Department of Recreation and Parks and the Los Angeles Zoo is termed a ‘comprehensive sign program.’ As contemplated, a sign program would be a new discretionary procedure that would enable the city to approve otherwise prohibited signs, such as off-site signs (including digital off-site signs) in certain locations so long as these signs were not viewable from the public right of way,” LoGrande wrote.

Sites eligible to apply could include cultural, sporting and city-owned facilities; larger, multi-tenanted retail malls, colleges and universities and institutions with “campus-like settings,” according to LoGrande.

“Through the sign program procedure, the city would be able to approve revenue-generating signs at selected sites, based on objective factors and findings, and impose appropriate conditions and require compliance with environmental mitigation measures,” the planning director wrote.

Hathaway sees this plan as a backdoor ploy to continue the proliferation of outdoor signs that have become commonplace on the Westside and throughout Hollywood, and extend them to places like Venice Beach and Penmar Park in Venice, as well as to shopping centers like the Howard Hughes Center in Westchester.

“There’s no question in my mind,” he said.

Los Angeles banned new digital outdoor advertising when it was considering changes to its sign ordinance in 2008. The Hughes Center was once one of 21 proposed locations for a billboard district that the Planning Department was considering as a means of creating areas where billboards could be erected.

The council also outlawed converting traditional billboards into digital signs.

The Los Angeles Parks and Recreation Foundation has indicated that it would like to explore putting logos in city parks, including the Venice Boardwalk. Foundation Executive Director Judith Kieffer said approved images that might be placed in the city’s many facilities include, but are not limited to, the Recreation and Parks Department’s Aquatic Centers and Pool as well as the department’s dog parks.

“These facilities offer high visibility and a diverse demographic, reaching the entire population of Los Angeles city and beyond,” Kieffer told The Argonaut in March. “The Venice Beach Boardwalk is one of the top tourist destinations in Southern California.”

On its website, the parks foundation describes its mission as one to “embrace, preserve and expand recreational opportunities and facilities of our over 400 city parks that serve all the people of Los Angeles.”

An eight-block stretch along the boardwalk is detailed in the sponsorship opportunities for the potential locations, and Hathaway said as many as 200 signs are a part of the plan.

In June, Kieffer stated that there is no current plan to install logos on Venice Beach.

The Venice Neighborhood Council voted unanimously to oppose any outdoor signage or logos on Venice Beach May 24 and Hathaway hopes City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents the coastal community, will honor the local council’s decision.

“In the past the councilman has looked to his neighborhood councils for guidance on issues of great importance to the community, and I trust that he will on this as well,” Hathaway said.

Barbara Duffy of the Venice Beach Merchants Association also spoke against corporate logos on Venice Beach. “We oppose the commercialization of the Westside in any form,” she told the Venice council May 24.

Rosendahl has stated that his policy has always been to consider his local boards’ decisions before he decides how to vote, especially on matters that could have a long-term effect on a neighborhood.

“I don’t want to do anything on the beach before discussing it with my constituents,” Rosendahl, said. “It’s also too early to discuss something that will be discussed after the budget hearings are over.”

The councilman said that due to the city’s budget woes, he has to keep an open mind about certain ventures that could be profitable to the city.

“The idea of a public/private partnership is a very good one,” Rosendahl said. “The reality is, we have to look for ways to bring in more revenue.”

Ira Koslow, a member of the Venice council who lives near the boardwalk, said most Venice residents with whom he has spoken do not want to see commercial signage when they go to the beach. “My feeling, especially regarding parks and beaches, is that I can look at advertising practically anywhere within the city, so I don’t want to see it in the parks and beaches,” he said.

Any outdoor signage on the city side of Venice Beach, which is closer to Ocean Front Walk, could require coastal permits from the California Coastal Commission. Charles Posner, an analyst at the commission, said his agency had not seen a proposal to install any corporate logs at the beach, and each instance would be reviewed individually in the event that the city approves of any signs.

“We would have to look at what is being proposed before we could make a definite determination,” Posner told The Argonaut.

Posner said painted signs on existing structures like bleachers or trash receptacles would not require permits. But banners that extend over a basketball backboard might need to be regulated, and anything that would qualify as an addition to an existing structure would need a coastal permit as well, he said.

“It is the development that is regulated and that would need a permit, not the advertising,” Posner explained.

In his letter to the Budget and Finance Committee, LoGrande directed members to Deputy Planning Director Alan Bell for all questions pertaining to the sign program.

Bell did not return calls for comment to The Argonaut.

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