A regional transportation committee voted unanimously Aug. 8 to ask the Los Angeles City Council to postpone voting on an advertising contract that would supply images and posters for bus benches and kiosks in areas such as Mar Vista and Venice.

Members of the Council District 11 Transportation Advisory Committee were concerned that the negotiation of a contract for images and advertising posters on what is known as street furniture had not be fully examined by interested parties, such as neighborhood councils and transit riders. They are asking City Councilman Bill Rosendahl’s office to delay taking action on the contract for two months.

“Whereas there has been considerably more attention paid to date to the needs of the advertisers than to the needs of transit riders with respect to the bus benches and other bus stop amenities for transit riders, the Council District 11 Transportation Advisory Committee strongly urges a 60-day ‘hold’ on awarding the new city of Los Angeles bus bench advertising contract to allow neighborhood councils, grassroots and transit rider input,” the motion states.

Ken Alpern, the committee’s co-chair, told The Argonaut, “This has been flying under the radar, therefore I think that we need to be more circumspect about this.”

Street furniture is a term used to describe objects and pieces of equipment installed on streets and roads for various purposes, such as benches, bus kiosks, public restrooms and waste receptacles.

The vendors that are bidding on the contract were unknown by the committee, which also frustrates Alpern. “Again, a lack of transparency here,” he said.

Martin Media Outdoor LLC is the name of the advertising company that is listed in an Aug. 3 city Public Works committee report obtained by The Argonaut.

The Miami-based company has been in business since 1999 and its advertising rate for “high profile” locations in Miami can reportedly go as high as $550 for bus shelters.

Board of Public Works Director William Weeks spoke of the advertising contract with Martin Media Outdoors in a letter to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa June 15.

“As recommended in the accompanying revised report of the directors of the Bureaus of Street Services and Contract Administration, which this board has adopted, the Board of Public Works requests approval and forwarding to the City Council for approval and authorization to enter into a 10-year contract with Martin Media Outdoors, LLC for a bus bench program in the city of Los Angeles,” Weeks wrote.

Members of the committee are suspect of not only the timing of the contract but also of the concept of advertisments on bus benches and trash receptacles on the Westside and throughout the city.

“The last time a contract was negotiated for (street furniture), Mar Vista was not very smart in its negotiations,” said Mar Vista resident Chuck Ray, a member of the council district’s transportation committee. “West Los Angeles was able to negotiate to have a percentage of the contract go to their community.

“Why should one community council get some of the money and not others?”

David Ewing, a Venice resident and the committee’s co-chair, has seen the controversy over street furniture advertisments erupt in his neighborhood. In March 2009, the Venice Neighborhood Council voted overwhelmingly to oppose any new structures and to request their removal from Venice, as well as to “oppose any subsequent pressures to permit the installation of street furniture and associated advertising.”

The resolution also asked Rosendahl to invalidate the current contract that the city has with CBS Outdoors/JC Decaux, an outdoor advertising firm.

Because the city has a contract with CBS Outdoors/JC Decaux, the contract could not be abrogated.

“I’ve been against this deal since the very beginning when I came onto the council,” Rosendahl, a former Venice resident who was elected in 2005, asserted. “But since the advertising company has a contract, I’m not sure that we can get them out of Venice or other parts of my district.”

Ewing said outdoor advertising firms view the Westside as a place where there are many affluent clients with disposable income who will be interested in their movies and products.

“We’re considered to be a prime advertising market for these companies,” he said. “The city has made millions of dollars with these contracts, and they’ve really abdicated their responsibility to the community.”

Alpern thinks that the public in general is not necessarily against having bus benches for those who commute by bus.

“I don’t think that people are against street furniture,” he said. “But they are opposed to visual blight.”

J.Francios Nion, executive vice president of CBS/Decaux, said in a prior interview that his company seeks to provide entertainment and information to the public.

“We are a media company that provides the city with a service,” Nion told The Argonaut. “(Blight) is always a question of taste and color.”

CBS/Decaux is in its 10th year of a 20-year contract.

Rosendahl would also like to see his council district get more of the revenue from any street furniture contract if a company is hired. “We get all of the street furniture in my district but the revenue is split among the 15 council districts,” he said.

He also said that he would be willing to look into how Public Works has conducted the search for a contractor and determine if there was an open bidding process.

In his letter, Weeks states that since June 2010 the Public Works board authorized the Bureau of Street Services to solicit proposals for a 10-year bus bench program. Three proposals were received and followup interviews were conducted.

“As a result of the written proposals and followup interviews, Martin Outdoor Media LLC was the highest ranked proposer from the request for proposal,” Weeks wrote.

While a fiscal impact statement was submitted, according to the public works committee report, a community impact statement was not.

It is unknown when the proposed contract with Martin Outdoor Media will be presented to the City Council.

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