Six months after The Argonaut learned that bus benches and shelters, kiosks and sign stands in the coastal zone require permits, Los Angeles officials have yet to secure the licenses for them.
Known as “street furniture,” the edifices are viewed by some residents in Venice as visual blight, and they have called upon city officials to halt what they feel is further intrusion of street furniture into their neighborhoods and to secure the proper permits for them.
“The city is still in the process of obtaining its permits for the street furniture,” Lance Oishi, contract administrator from the Bureau of Street Services street furniture program, told The Argonaut last month.
“We don’t have a clear time-line on when such permits will be issued, but as was the case in May, we’re still actively pursuing the matter.”
Bus benches and shelters, waste receptacles and public restrooms fall under the general definition of street furniture.
The California Coastal Commission has given Los Angeles city officials the authority to secure the necessary permits for the structures, says Charles Posner, an analyst with the commission.
“We have delegated the city the authority to obtain coastal permits for street furniture, and we are expecting the city to process these permits,” Posner stated.
“We have not seen any Coastal Commission permits to date.”
The coastal zone for the Venice-Playa del Rey area is located west of Lincoln Boulevard, extends to the coastline, and continues south along Vista Del Mar.
In Venice, residents have taken a strong position on the advertisements that are placed in many of the bus shelters and on structures that often feature movie posters, electronic products or other commercial enterprises.
Dennis Hathaway, a Venice homeowner who has been active in pressuring city officials to catalogue and regulate billboards throughout Los Angeles, says that he is not surprised to learn that the enclosures and kiosks do not have the proper licensing.
“Not at all,” he said in a recent interview. “But I am surprised that (the Department of) Public Works allows them to go forward with this.”
Kevin Fry, president of Scenic America, compared the abundance of street furniture and billboards to the science fiction films “Children of Men” and “Blade Runner” in an interview with Los Angeles City Beat.
“In both (movies), the visual environment is filled with billboards, and that’s shorthand for a dysfunctional society,” he said.
The commission is empowered to require that city officials obtain permits for the street furniture or remove them, but commission officials say that they would likely approve most of the permits retroactively if they were submitted.
Posner said that while his agency is expecting Los Angeles to process the coastal permits as soon as possible, the commission has to prioritize its level of enforcement due to state budget restraints.
“Each one is at a different priority level,” he explained.
Bus shelters, due to the amenities that they can provide to the public, would be a lower priority than a structure that only carries commercial advertisements, Posner said.
“Their only purpose seems to be to put up more advertising in the public view,” he said of the sign structures.
CBS Outdoors/JCDecaux, an outdoor advertising agency, is in its eighth year of a 20-year contract that grants it the exclusive right to install and maintain its street furniture in exchange for the right to sell and display advertising throughout the 11th Council District, according to the city Bureau of Street Services.
J.Francios Nion, executive vice president of CBS/Decaux, said that his company would adhere to any new policies that city officials designate in order to comply with the existing law.
“We will do whatever is necessary to continue in good standing,” Nion said.
Only one structure, a two-sided enclosure that holds commercial advertisements on the corner of Abbot Kinney Boulevard and Pacific Avenue in Venice, has been installed this year without a permit, according to the commission.
When The Argonaut published a story in May detailing the lack of permits for coastal zone street furniture, city officials said that they would be working with representatives of the Coastal Commission to craft guidelines and procedures for the city to acquire coastal permits. Until this year, according to Michelle Vargas, a spokeswoman for the Department of Building and Safety, there was no method of securing the required permits for street furniture.
“There has not been a permitting process in place for street furniture west of Lincoln Boulevard,” Vargas said in March. “At this point, the city is working with the Coastal Commission to work out the permitting issue.”
CBS/Decaux has secured all of the necessary city permits that the company is required to have, Vargas added.
Posner said that it was somewhat surprising to him that Los Angeles authorities are still crafting ideas about how to secure coastal permits for the structures.
“There is already a permitting procedure in place,” he noted.
Gail Rogers, a longtime Venice homeowner who like Hathaway, considers street furniture visual blight, brought a proposal before the Venice Neighborhood Council in February that requested “no more street furniture by CBS/Decaux be installed, that any street furniture associated with the outdoor advertising firm be removed and that the current contract with CBS/Decaux be nullified, along with any other contract under the ‘Coordinated Street Furniture Program’ in any location.”
The advisory council approved the motion, but Rogers later learned that the contract cannot be rescinded.
Much like outdoor advertising companies Clear Channel and Wagner, street furniture has provided a steady stream of income to the city’s coffers. CBS/Decaux is guaranteeing approximately $150 million in revenue in return for 2,250 bus shelters, which will house 1,640 advertisements.
The company is entitled to have 3,300 pieces of street furniture, according to its contract.
Hathaway commended the commission on its position that all street furniture must have the necessary licenses in the coastal zone.
“The commission has a very no-nonsense approach on street furniture, and that’s encouraging,” he said.
Posner stated that he has not heard from Los Angeles authorities regarding permits for the coastal street furniture in several months.