The Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved a moratorium on all billboards and super graphics on December 17th, setting the stage for Venice anti-blight activists to push ahead with an all-out ban on outdoor advertising and city officials to begin the process of redesigning the city’s current sign ordinance.
In October, the Los Angeles City Planning Commission had recommended the suspension of all new outdoor signage, including the conversion from traditional to digital, for six months. The City Council’s decision allows it to extend the ban for another three months after the first 90 days are up, if necessary.
Councilman Bill Rosendahl, one of the council’s most outspoken critics of the proliferation of outdoor advertising, said that the unanimous vote was a victory for advocates against urban blight and sends a clear message to firms that have inundated the Westside with their billboards.
“The dynamic that took place on the council floor was really amazing,” said Rosendahl, who submitted a motion asking for a moratorium in the coastal communities that he represents — the 11th District — prior to the council’s decision to approve the moratorium citywide.
“The good news is that in the 11th District, we’re ahead of the curve because we already know how many billboards we have which are illegal, and how many have switched to digital, thanks to the Department of Building and Safety working in coordination with my office and Dennis Hathaway and his group,” Rosendahl noted.
Led by Hathaway, the president of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight, several residents in Mar Vista and Venice have taken it upon themselves to catalog outdoor signs throughout the 11th District, which includes Venice, Del Rey, Mar Vista and Westchester. After learning of the volunteer effort to count the number of illegal and legal billboards in their area, representatives from the Department of Building and Safety pledged to assist the residents in compiling data necessary for city officials to conduct further studies on how to approach the policy on billboards.
Laura Silagi, who spent the day in Venice and Palms with a fellow volunteer in October during the citizen project to record the number of billboards in the coastal communities, was motivated to help catalog the signs because of the visual blight near her home.
“Lincoln Boulevard is probably the worst street in Los Angeles in terms of billboards,” said Silagi, who lives near Lincoln and is Hathaway’s wife. “When I learned about this effort to catalog the billboards, I wanted to be a part of it because we’ve been so committed to beautifying Lincoln.”
Indeed, Lincoln Boulevard has 84 outdoor signs — the most among the major thoroughfares on the Westside.
The companies that have the most billboards are Clear Channel, which owns 143 outdoor signs in the 11th District, and CBS Outdoor, which has 136.
In 2006, several billboard companies agreed to a settlement following a lawsuit against the city after the council initiated a 2002 ban on new outdoor signs. The settlement permitted 840 of their billboards to be changed to digital displays, which some local residents say have the potential to cause accidents as well as visual blight.
Mike Newhouse, the president of the Venice Neighborhood Council, applauded the council’s decision to implement the moratorium and mentioned that his council passed a resolution several months ago supporting a ban on outdoor signs.
“A full six-month moratorium would have been the optimal goal, but the shorter timeline might force the city to focus on writing a good sign policy,” Newhouse pointed out.
The Venice Neighborhood Council president credited Hathaway for keeping the topic of the proliferation of billboards front and center.
“Dennis Hathaway deserves a lot of credit for helping to make this [moratorium] happen,” said Newhouse.
Ryan Brooks of CBS Outdoor said that he supports the moratorium, echoing the reasons that Newhouse and Rosendahl gave.
“We recognize that there’s a need for effective billboard regulation in Los Angeles,” said Brooks.
Rosendahl said that billboard and super graphics companies such as Clear Channel or CBS Outdoor cannot attempt to change their advertisements to digital during the cessation of billboard installation.
“If either of those two companies feel that they can violate the law, our policing powers will take effect,” the councilman said. “This was a big victory for people who believe in character and community, and a great action by the council.”
Like Newhouse, Mar Vista Community Council first vice-president Albert Olson said he hoped that the ban on billboards would have been set at six months.
“I do wish that it had been a bit longer,” Olson acknowledged. Nevertheless, he is glad that a moratorium has been approved, especially against the conversion from traditional to digital billboards.
“I do think that there is a qualitative difference between a static billboard and a constantly changing sign,” said Olson.
Rosendahl says that one very good benefit of the moratorium is that city officials now have the opportunity to make a more accurate distinction between murals and advertisements. Many artists and muralists in Venice have complained that the current policy diminishes their cultural and artistic work by equating them with commercial signage.
“A mural is a work of art, a work of character, it’s an artistic statement, and a commercial advertisement is just that,” he said. “This gives us the chance to redefine going forward what a billboard is, what a mural is, what revenue streams we should get, where these locations should be, and the overall policy of quality of life and community.”
Newhouse, speaking as a resident of Venice, agrees.
“Although this issue has not been brought before our council, as an individual, I think that it would be a fantastic idea to write a clear sign policy that differentiates between a billboard and a sign,” Newhouse asserted. “They’re apples and oranges.”
Some of the digital billboards can be quite graphic, Olson said, and while he does not advocate censorship, as the father of a six-year old daughter he is glad that the ability to switch to digital outdoor signs is temporarily halted.
“It gets tiresome having to explain some of these billboards to [my daughter],” he said.
Jennifer Grey, a spokeswoman at Brainerd Communicators, representing Clear Channel, told The Argonaut that the company had no comment on the moratorium.
The ban does exempt companies that have already begun construction of signs which have already obtained permits from the city.