One of the leading anti-blight activists in the city is concerned about what he thinks is an about-face by City Councilman Bill Rosendahl on the potential installation of corporate logos in city parks across Los Angeles, including the internationally known Venice Boardwalk.
Dennis Hathaway, the executive director of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight, views some comments by Rosendahl at a City Council committee meeting May 2 on the corporate logo issue as a troublesome sign. The councilman spoke about the possibility of creating a public/private partnership with corporations, where companies would donate funds for park maintenance in return for a sign with their corporate logo.
“Bill Rosendahl seems to me to be supporting that, specifically for Venice Beach,” Hathaway said. “He appears to have gone over to the other side on this.”
Hathaway was referencing a conversation that Rosendahl had with Barry Sanders of the Recreation and Parks Commission regarding generating revenue to maintain the city’s recreational facilities.
A video illustrating the potential for commercial sponsorships from the private nonprofit Los Angeles Parks Foundation details potential locations at Venice Beach.
On the video, entitled “Venice Beach Sponsorship Opportunities,” various locations where a corporate donor could install its logo are listed. Locations include the Venice Beach Skate Park, benches, trash receptacles, bleacher signs, basketball courts, the walls of the recreation center and restroom doors.
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.
Hathaway’s organization has teamed with Rosendahl to limit the number of billboards in Council District 11, and the councilman has been one of the most vocal municipal lawmakers on banning outdoor digital signs.
Last month, the councilman submitted a motion to the council to explore how the city can secure a revenue stream from static billboards that have been converted to digital.
Hathaway is not alone in his concern that the fabled boardwalk could turn into a haven for corporate signs, albeit smaller than the outdoor advertising that is virtually ubiquitous on major boulevards and avenues, as well as along freeways.
“I am appalled by the idea of billboards up on light posts, trash cans, restrooms and benches along the Venice Beach Boardwalk. Any such installations made in order to increase revenue for the city of Los Angeles are very short sighted,” Venice resident Doty Dorn wrote to the Venice Neighborhood Council.
“It is a very short road to destroying an irreplaceable natural beauty and source of tremendous income for the city through tourists and visitors to the area from all around the world.”
Rosendahl denies that his feelings have changed on large-scale corporate signage and insists that nothing will transpire without input from the businesses owners and homeowners who live and work along and near the boardwalk.
“I don’t want to do anything on the beach before discussing it with my constituents,” Rosendahl, who represents Venice, told The Argonaut. “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,” he said. “The reality is, we have to look for ways to bring in more revenue.”
On its website, the nonprofit Los Angeles 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.”
Los Angeles Parks Foundation Executive Director Judith Kieffer said her organization is not considering a plan that would bring corporate logos to Venice.
“The foundation has no sponsorship proposals for any city parks,” she said.
Under what is known as governance speech, government entities are allowed to erect signs that thank a donor for an altruistic endeavor. But there are strict regulations for this condition, including the provision that the government entity control how the sign is erected, as well as its design and what is placed on the sign.
In addition, signs or logos must not include anything that resembles advertisements.
Kieffer said recognizing donors that contribute to the city’s parks are not the same as erecting billboards, which are prohibited under city law.
“With generous donations from our sponsors, there is an opportunity to have their name displayed,” she explained.
The controversy over advertisements vs. sponsorship played out against the backdrop of Hollywood and the movie industry last fall when the city Recreation and Parks Commission approved a plan that was pushed by Sanders to allow Warner Bros. to place images from its upcoming “Yogi Bear” movie on signs in three city parks.
The parks foundation board of directors approved the installation of the logos, overriding local protests about the whiff of corporate advertising. The deal was later rescinded by City Councilman Paul Koretz, whose motion permitted a council commission to overrule a city commission’s action.
Venice Neighborhood Council President Linda Lucks, a Venice resident for over 30 years, said if the city is considering bringing commercial logos to the beach, it would make an already poor situation – as far as visual blight is concerned – worse.
“To have more city-sanctioned signage? – please,” Lucks said. “The visual landscape, which is already cluttered, will be unbearably altered.
Dorn said that instead of having a beneficial financial outcome for Venice, the opposite could occur.
“Venice Beach is the number-two tourist destination in California, next to Disneyland,” she pointed out. “To shamelessly destroy the beauty and character of the boardwalk will drive tourists away, causing revenue to be lost in the long run.”
Hathaway said corporate logos, even if they are not billboards, could also take away from one of the beach community’s most enduring artistic symbols: the various murals that dot the coastal enclave’s landscape.
“There’s something that happens when you have a lot of commercial signs,” he said. “It crowds out the other types of expression that are already there, like murals.”
Hathaway thinks any debate over the size of a corporate sign and whether it should be classified as advertising is a non-starter.
“That’s just semantics,” the anti-blight advocate said. “The discussion should be: do we want to turn our public spaces over to corporations to provide services that the city historically has provided?”
Lucks believes the municipal deficit could drive some lawmakers to consider bringing sponsorships to Venice. “When the city is desperate for money, it will sell its soul,” she asserted.
Rosendahl reiterated that no proposal for commercial logos would move forward without community support. “Whatever might be done, it would be fully vetted first by the community,” the councilman repeated. “Dennis, who I greatly admire, doesn’t have to get riled up about this. This is months down the road.”
The Venice Neighborhood Council will vote on a resolution on whether or not to have commercial sponsorships at the beach at its monthly meeting Tuesday, May 24.