A week after a city commission recommended putting a temporary halt on the conversion of traditional billboards to digital advertising, officials from the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety have agreed to assist residents of Venice and Mar Vista in recording the number of outdoor advertisements in the 11th Council District.

At a press conference Saturday, October 25th, in front of television cameras and print media, Department of Building and Safety assistant deputy supervisor David Lara joined City Councilman Bill Rosendahl and several residents of the 11th District to announce the new development surrounding the controversy of the proliferation of large outdoor advertising signs.

Against the backdrop of several large billboards, Lara told reporters that his department would gladly assist them in their effort to collect data not only on the number of signs that dot the district’s landscape, but whether many of them are legal as well.

These findings will later be forwarded to City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo to determine which signs have legal permits, who the owners of the billboards are and why so many of them have been erected along the principal thoroughfares of Venice, Mar Vista and Del Rey.

Residents in these communities have been seeking information about the signs for months and have grown increasingly frustrated over what many feel is an overabundance of billboards in their neighborhoods.

“It’s a very big task and by far a monumental task to pull this together,” Lara said. “It’s very important for us as a department to make sure that the people’s wishes are executed.”

Several residents of Venice and Mar Vista who spent the afternoon walking the district to document the number of billboards and signs that permeate much of the Westside applauded Lara’s announcement.

“I appreciate that [the Department of] Building and Safety came out to tell us that they want to help,” said Dennis Hathaway, president of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight, a Venice organization that is seeking to reduce electronic and traditional billboards in their community.

City officials who are charged with tabulating the number of billboards in the district have not stepped up to do the job, say many of the residents who spent a portion of the day cataloging both digital and traditional signs. That prompted Hathaway and others to take the initiative to do it themselves.

Rosendahl, who represents the 11th Council District, praised the volunteer effort of his Venice and Mar Vista constituents.

“Dennis Hathaway is a true community leader,” Rosendahl told The Argonaut after the press conference. “I love to see democracy at its grassroots level, when people take responsibility for their lives.

“This was an empowering experience.”

Lara promised that his department would take the residents’ concern regarding blight and safety very seriously.

“We’re moving forward and we are here to help you out,” he pledged.

Rosendahl joined Hathaway in thanking Lara’s agency for attending the press conference.

“To see Building and Safety step up to the plate and agree to work with us and help compile all the data that we need to find out how many billboards are in our district and how many are legal, that’s very significant,” he said.

Rosendahl said that it is apparent to him and others that the communities he represents have seen an influx of both traditional and digital advertisements.

“I live in the 11th District, and I have noticed that in the last year, signs are popping up out of nowhere, and I have not received an answer from the City Attorney’s Office why this is happening,” the councilman noted. “I’ve had it, and my constituents have had it.”

On October 16th, the Los Angeles Planning Commission issued its recommendation to institute a year-long moratorium on converting traditional signs to digital advertising. That decision was welcomed by Hathaway and his group, who feel that these large commercial signs have caused blight and that at night the digital boards can be dangerously distracting to motorists.

“My interest is safety,” said DeDe Audet, who is president emeritus of the Venice Neighborhood Council. “Peripheral vision is very important, and these signs can be very distracting.”

David Ewing, a Venice resident who was cataloging billboards in Mar Vista, wondered why the 11th District seems to have become a repository for outdoor advertising.

“Why do we have this problem in our communities when Santa Monica doesn’t have this problem and when Beverly Hills doesn’t have this problem?” he asked.

Rosendahl feels that the owners of the sign companies have targeted the 11th District because of the Westside’s prosperity.

“The marketing mavens of these companies believe that we’re in an affluent district and that we have the discretionary money to purchase their products,” he surmised. “We’re assaulted with these billboards, and the money that we receive from these companies is divided among all of 15 council districts.”

Two of the largest billboard companies in the city, Clear Channel and CBS Outdoor, were allowed to convert 840 traditional outdoor signs to digital in 2006 following a lawsuit after the council passed a ban on outdoor signs in 2002.

Laura Silagi, who spent her day in Venice and Palms with a fellow volunteer, was motivated to help catalog the signs because of the visual blight near her home.

“Lincoln Boulevard is probably the worst street in Los Angeles in terms of billboards,” said Silagi, who lives near Lincoln. “When I learned about this effort to catalog the billboards, I wanted to be a part of it because we’ve been so committed to beautifying Lincoln.”

Rosendahl said that during the moratorium he would also be asking Delgadillo to take a look at the current sign ordinance, which considers signs and murals to be the same. That policy has angered many artists throughout Los Angeles, who complain that large signs and other advertisements are now taking space formerly occupied by murals.

“Murals are an artistic and cultural benefit to a community, and a billboard is a commercial advertisement,” Rosendahl asserted. “They have to be separate, and we have to protect the integrity of the murals and the artists.”

Hathaway said he was grateful to the volunteers who took the time to help take inventory of the signs throughout Mar Vista, Venice and Palms.

“I was really happy to see that on a hot day so many people turned out to help us catalog all of these signs,” he said.

The president of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight feels that Rosendahl’s intervention and his organization’s persistence were key to having the Department of Building and Safety agree to help them.

“This is an example that shows that people don’t have to feel powerless,” Hathaway said. “When you’re determined, you can get city officials to pay attention to you.”

When asked how soon the commission’s recommendation would come before the council, Rosendahl replied, “My hope is that under emergency legislation it will come before us as quickly as possible.”

Delgadillo’s office had not responded to phone calls for comment at Argonaut press time.

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