A Los Angeles assistant city attorney says that Venice community leaders can legally pursue a mechanism that may allow them to avoid having signs or logos along Venice Beach as is recommended in a proposed city ordinance.
Jane Usher, a special assistant to City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, confirmed that a proposal by City Councilwoman Jan Perry for certain neighborhoods to request exemption from having advertising signs in city parks has legal merit.
“Yes, an exemption like that is possible,” Usher told The Argonaut. “(A neighborhood) could also identify those locations that want to opt out or create a mechanism to opt out, and you could include those that might have been ‘grandfathered’ into (an ordinance).”
The City Council will be considering a new sign ordinance next year and the Los Angeles Parks Foundation has recommended installing logos or banners from businesses to generate funds to offset park expenditures as well as create a revenue stream for the city.
The private nonprofit organization said it has no plans to install signs in city parks. Its representatives say that logos or banners are not the same as outdoor signs or billboards, which are prohibited under city law.
“With generous donations from our sponsors, there is an opportunity to have their name displayed,” Los Angeles Parks Foundation Executive Director Judith Kieffer explained in a March interview.
Perry, who is seeking to replace Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in 2013, came to Venice Nov. 15 and addressed its neighborhood council on a variety of topics, including the foundation’s proposal.
The councilwoman acknowledged that she supports having signs in parks and recreation spaces because it is a way for some neighborhoods to generate revenue for their park programs.
“The only way that they can get extra money is by having local businesses support them and make donations to the local park organizations, and in exchange for that, sometimes the businesses put up signs on the field,” Perry explained.
The mayoral candidate then offered to assist the local neighborhood council in crafting language to submit to the City Council as a possible change to the city’s sign ordinance that would allow them to exempt spaces like Venice Beach.
Several members of the audience waved signs opposing Perry’s position on signs.
“Now, if you dislike (the concept of banners in municipal parks), what I would suggest – and actually, I will help you – is draft ‘opt-out’ language,” the councilwoman recommended. “Have your neighborhood council draft language that will exempt you from (not allowing commercial advertising on Venice Beach) and I’d be happy to put that in the ordinance.”
Usher, a former Los Angeles planning commissioner, said municipal officials should be flexible when crafting citywide land use regulations.
“Whenever we do these kinds of ordinances, we have to be mindful that the city does not fit into a ‘one size fits all’ (box),” said Usher, who handles planning matters in Trutanich’s office.
One example that she mentioned is the city fences and hedges ordinance. Some neighborhoods, including in Venice, claimed exemptions on the height of some residential fences.
Venice Neighborhood Council President Linda Lucks was delighted to hear that Usher’s office considers the possibility of carving out an exemption for Venice Beach to be plausible and hopes her board will entertain drafting language for a possible ordinance to that effect.
“We’re certainly open to it,” Lucks said.
Venice resident Dennis Hathaway expressed skepticism when Perry made her offer to the Venice council. “It was short on any details,” Hathaway said.
Hathaway is the executive director of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight, an organization that has been engaged in halting the proliferation of billboards and outdoor signage in Los Angeles.
Lucks said Hathaway will be consulted on what an exemption should include to prevent having signs or banners at the beach.
“He’s been involved in (advocating against outdoor signs) for a long time, so we definitely would like his input,” the Venice council president said.
Challis Macpherson, a former chair of Venice’s land use and planning committee, also thinks that Hathaway should be consulted on what should go into the language for an exemption.
“That’s the first thing that I would do if I were in charge,” Macpherson said.
Macpherson said she would also involve the Westside Regional Alliance of Councils, a coalition of neighborhood councils that includes Venice.
Hathaway could not be reached for comment on the exemption issue. In an interview with The Argonaut after Perry’s visit to Venice, he said he would not completely close the door on the possibility of an exemption for Venice Beach.
“I’d be open to seeing any specifics about how it would work,” Hathaway said.
Macpherson said she feels that it is critical to make sure that any exemption language in the ordinance not be too complicated.
“It would have to be simple, so that everyone will know what (Venice) is talking about,” said the former council planning chair.
Usher said that in her opinion, the language in an exemption may not be as important as another component.
“I don’t foresee any legal impediment on specific wording,” she said. “It strikes me as more challenging if it is a procedure.”
Perry told the audience that she would talk to Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Venice, about her recommendation as well.
Rosendahl, who worked with Perry last year on a ballot measure for greater accountability from the Department of Water and Power, said city officials as well as Venice residents should be part of any action that is ultimately taken regarding the sign ordinance.
“I’d like to see the city and the community come up with a strategy that everyone can live with,” Rosendahl said. “I welcome all suggestions and strategies from my colleagues.”
Asked if she realized that Venice was strongly opposed to signs and logos along the boardwalk, Usher responded, “I’m certainly aware of neighborhoods that have an aversion to outdoor signage.”
Many Venice residents are wary of the parks foundation’s claim that the proposed plan does not constitute commercial signage. “I think that is conniving,” Macpherson stated. “This is the camel’s nose under the tent.”
She also feels that Usher’s history gives her added credibility with many residents. “Jane is an advocate for neighborhood councils,” Macpherson said.
Usher said new additions to the sign ordinance would likely not come before the City Council for two to three months, so there is time for the Venice council to draft its exemption if it chooses to do so.
“The most fruitful approach for those (communities that are seeking exemptions) would be to speak to members of the planning and land use committee to make sure that an exemption is part of its recommendations,” the assistant city attorney said. “It’s always useful to introduce new provisions at the earliest possible date.”
Hathaway said no matter how any possible opt-outs are crafted, he remains adamant that the foundation’s plan does not belong in recreational areas.
“Parks should be off-limits,” he asserted.