The Howard Hughes Center is home to several commercial, retail and professional interests, along with many entertainment venues. And soon, it could have a collection of large, colorful signs dotting its landscape.

If a plan by the Los Angeles Planning Commission remains intact, Westchester could be one of several proposed sign district areas throughout Los Angeles.

The commission voted in March to ban traditional and digital billboards and outdoors signs from Los Angeles, continuing a trend that began last year with a moratorium on outdoor advertising. But in the newly proposed sign ordinance is a provision for 20 new sign districts.

Two such locations would be assigned in the 11th Council District, at the Promenade at Howard Hughes Parkway in Westchester, and along Century Boulevard near Los Angeles International Airport.

Residents of the 11th District, which includes Westchester, have been at the forefront of attempting to force the city to regulate and catalogue the number of outdoor signs for the last 18 months. Dennis Hathaway, the president of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight, is not a fan of designated sign districts, but feels that the proposed ordinance would help to rid the major avenues and boulevards of what he considers to be visual blight.

ìSign districts are allowed under the current city sign ordinance, as long as they meet a certain criteria,î Hathaway, a Venice resident, noted. ìWe managed to get language into the new proposal that would force a sign company to remove a sign for every one that it installs in a sign district.î

The formula is known as a one-to-one ratio, and under these guidelines, an off-site billboard would be removed from the surrounding areas before another could be erected within a selected sign zone. For example, a billboard firm that wishes to have its outdoor signage in a newly created district along Century Boulevard would be required to remove an existing billboard on the boulevard first.

Former Planning Commissioner Jane Usher says that the City Council should not vote on the proposed ordinance before learning the outcome of a pending court case.

ìI think that it would be a grave mistake for the City Council to move forward until the Ninth Circuit rules on the enforcement of the sign ban,î Usher, an attorney, told the Argonaut.

Usher was referring to a case that is before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that pertains to a lawsuit by an outdoor advertising firm that is challenging the constitutionality of the cityís sign ordinance.

ìIt seems sensible to me to have a moratorium on sign districts while they wait for the Ninth Circuit to rule,î said Usher, who resigned from the commission last December.

Some billboard companies see the possibility of sign districts as a potential benefit for the public and the outdoor sign industry.

ìWe would love to be able to grow our business, like any other company thatís in business. And one way could certainly be with a sign district,î said Peter Raulli, vice president of leasing and development for Van Wagner Outdoor, an outdoor advertising firm based in Sherman Oaks that has approximately 500 billboards in Los Angeles. ì(Sign districts) could be a way to enhance the visual landscape of Los Angeles.î

Not everyone agrees that outdoor signs make the scenery more pleasant.

ìWe are witnessing a massive corporatization of the public space,î asserted Judith Baca, founder of the Social Art and Public Resource Center (SPARC), a Venice-based nonprofit arts center that produces and preserves public art.

Murals and other public art, which is not a part of the recommended sign law, will be considered separately by the commission later this year.

The Westside in particular has seen a deluge of outdoor advertising in recent years, which generates large sums of money for municipal coffers.

Diane Licciardi is more concerned with how the Hughes Center will look with a billboard district than if she will be able to see them from her home.

ìI think that they will degrade the shopping center and the shopping experience,î said Licciardi, who lives on the hillside in Westchester across from the Hughes Center.

The commission, in a letter to council legislative assistant Barbara Greaves on Tuesday, April 7th, indicated that it recognized that sign districts might not be a good fit everywhere.

ìVisually intensive signage is not appropriate in most of the city,î the memo states. ìHowever, certain unique commercial centers may warrant special consideration for signage that complements the areaís character.î

The suggested ordinance would limit signs to the one percent of the city that has been planned for ìthe most intense commercial development,î the commission stated.

Some of the limitations for a sign district are a minimum size of 5,000 feet of street frontage, they cannot be adjacent to single-family homes and they can be either more or less restrictive than the baseline citywide sign standards, along with the aforementioned removal of a sign for every billboard that is installed.

Some of the billboard companies are not expected to favor the last requirement.

ìWe donít support a one-for-one exchange,î said Raulli. ìWe would be in support of an exchange of existing inventory for newer, more exciting inventory.

ìWe would like to see a public benefit instead of any sign removal.î

City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents the 11th District, pointed out that residents would be allowed the opportunity to have a say in whether they would like an area where a multitude of outdoor advertising is permitted.

ìFor (sign districts) to become real, there would have to be community input,î Rosendahl said.

The councilman saw a bit of good news regarding the new proposed ordinance ó the prohibition of any further billboards along major intersections.

ìThe rest of my district is spared,î he said.

Usher sees potential landmines in the ordinance that her former commission has recommended.

ìWhile there are many good things that have been included in this new ordinance, it is riddled with three exceptions that could threaten the whole structure,î the ex-commissioner asserted.

Under the new proposal, the three provisions are that any building larger than 100 square feet can become its own sign program, the inclusion of temporary signs, which would permit a property owner to have off-site signs three times a year for 30 days at a time, and the sign districts themselves, Usher said.

ìThere is also a new rule that would remove the definition of supergraphics,î Usher added.

Hathaway believes the ordinance that the commission is recommending is far better than previous proposals.

ìI feel that it is a compromise that we could live with,î he said. ìI think that this will have an overall community benefit.î

There are currently three approved sign districts in Los Angeles and seven that are pending review.

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