Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich is stepping up his campaign promise to rein in what he and others consider to be an abuse by billboard companies that erect supergraphics along freeway walls and buildings.
Trutanich filed a civil law enforcement action February 23rd against 27 defendants, including sign installers and property owners, for allegedly erecting illegal supergraphics throughout Los Angeles. The areas where many of the supergraphics have been installed include large commercial complexes like the Howard Hughes Center in Westchester, one of 12 locations included in the legal complaint.
The Hughes center was one of 21 locations city officials considered for a sign district when they were crafting a new sign ordinance. The proposal to create sign districts was not included in the draft of the new sign law.
In an interview with The Argonaut June 30th, one day before he was sworn into office, Trutanich promised to take a harder stance on outdoor sign operators than his predecessor, former City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo.
“I’m going to do the right thing by the people of Los Angeles,” Trutanich, a former Los Angeles deputy district attorney, said. “We’re going to stop the proliferation of billboards, and the owners of these outdoor signs will have to follow strict guidelines from now on.”
World Wide Rush is one of the 27 defendants named in the nuisance abatement suit. The outdoor sign company has a lawsuit against the city pending with the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in which it is asking the court to overturn a 2009 citywide ban on new supergraphics and billboards.
The company’s legal representatives claim that the lawsuit is in direct violation of an order by U.S. District Court Judge Audrey Collins last year that prevents city officials from removing over 20 of its supergraphics. Collins found Los Angeles in contempt of court for issuing World Wide Rush LLC citations for installing large supergraphics draped across two buildings.
Gary Mobley, a Newport Beach attorney representing World Wide Rush, claims that Trutanich’s lawsuit is in “contempt of court” because it is in direct contrast to what Collins ruled on last year. He also found the timing of the abatement action interesting due to the fact that Mobley filed a contempt motion against the city on February 18th based on the aforementioned edict barring the removal of his client’s supergraphics.
“I usually don’t believe in coincidences,” Mobley, of the law firm Case, Knowlson & Jordan, LLP told The Argonaut. “This is another attempt to circumvent Judge Collins’ order.”
On February 26th, the first arrest in the escalating backlash against alleged billboard and supergraphic scofflaws was made. Kayvan Setareh of Pacific Palisades was arrested at his home and ordered held on $1million bail for three city code violations. According to the city attorney’s office, two pertain to the city’s sign law.
Setareh, who had been cited for past breaches of the law for putting up unpermitted signs, had his bail lowered to $100,000 on Monday, March 1st after agreeing to take down his eight-story Hollywood supergraphic.
Anti-billboard activists like Venice resident Dennis Hathaway cheered the lawsuit against outdoor advertising firms.
“It’s easy to be very cynical when you hear politicians make campaign promises, but this seems to be a case where Trutanich is backing up his promises,” Hathaway, the director of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight, said.
The City Council passed a law in August banning billboards, and Trutanich’s office has filed a lawsuit against some of the outdoor advertising companies that he says have breached the ban.
“I intend to put teeth back in the law,” Trutanich promised in the June interview. “I can assure you that we will prosecute those who violate the law not civilly but criminally.”
Del Rey homeowner Chris Nevil echoed Hathaway’s comments on Trutanich and his campaign pledge regarding billboards.
“How refreshing to have a candidate whose promises have more that a five-minute shelf life,” said Nevil, the former president of the Del Rey Homeowners & Neighbors Association.
Other billboard firms have not had much success in their quests to continue to install their products across the Los Angeles landscape. On September 28th, Collins ruled against a petition filed by outdoor sign business Liberty Media Company to enjoin Los Angeles from imposing a ban on all new supergraphics, billboards and other outdoor signage.
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose 11th District has been bombarded with digital and traditional billboards for several years, praised Trutanich’s actions on behalf of the city.
“I’m delighted and pleased by his aggressive action,” said Rosendahl, who supported Trutanich during his campaign for city attorney. “This is the first time in Los Angeles that we are saying enough is enough is enough.
“It sets a tone that will change the dynamic in the city,” Rosendahl continued. “I applaud (Trutanich) for his courageous stand against this huge special interest.”
Hathaway, whose organization has lobbied for increased regulations of supergraphics and billboards for several years, said outdoor advertisements have become ubiquitous on the Westside.
“It’s like an invasion,” he said.
Before taking office, Trutanich said he would not tolerate companies or property owners who ignore the sign ordinance.
“If a sign company violates the law, they’re going to get a subpoena and a summons, and I assure you, they’re going to get dragged into court,” the city attorney asserted.
Trutanich is seeking $10,000 fines for each unpermitted supergraphic, as well as a penalty of $100 a day for as long as they remain in place.
Nevil said he hoped the city attorney’s lawsuit would make other outdoor sign firms and property owners think twice before installing an illegal billboard or a supergraphic without a permit.
“We need to recapture some of our esthetic dignity,” he said.
World Wide Rush is fighting back against the city government by seeking legal action of its own.
“We intend to bring a lawsuit before Judge Collins and ask for substantial sanctions,” Mobley said. “We also intend to ask that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the city attorney and the City Council be held in federal custody until they comply with the judge’s injunction.”
Rosendahl was not dismayed by the threat of a lawsuit.
“That’s how special interests try to intimidate people,” the councilman countered. “I’m comfortable knowing that our city attorney knows what he’s doing, and I applaud him for having the courage to take on this billboard and supergraphic blight.”
An employee at the Center Drive office at the Hughes Center said the complex’s representatives declined to comment on the lawsuit.