Newly elected Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich promised that he would do everything within his power to prevent the continued proliferation of outdoor signs that have permeated Los Angeles in recent years, especially on the Westside.
In an interview with The Argonaut the day before being sworn in as Los Angeles’ new city attorney on July 1st, Trutanich, who defeated former City Councilman Jack Weiss in a May 19th election, discussed what he thought about the newly proposed sign ordinance, the consideration of a billboard location near the Ballona Wetlands and how violators of the existing ban on billboards would be treated by his office.
“It’s not gonna happen,” Trutanich told The Argonaut, referring to the possibility of a sign district near the Ballona Wetlands.
Environmental organizations that have worked to restore the ecological area were taken aback to learn that city officials had considered the wetlands for one of 21 possible locations for proposed sign districts, which are a component of the new sign ordinance that is being considered by the City Council.
Although city planning officials have stated publicly that there are provisions in the proposed ordinance that would not allow a sign district to be erected near the Ballona Wetlands, conservationists have vociferously protested the fact that the wetlands remain on the list of proposed locations for billboard districts.
City planners say that a clause included in the new sign law bans billboards within 500 feet from an ecological preserve and will prevent any outdoor signs from sprouting up near the wetlands.
“This will, in effect, prohibit any billboards in the Ballona Wetlands,” Alan Bell, a senior planner with the city government, told The Argonaut last month.
The new city attorney’s position on outdoor signs near the Ballona Wetlands pleased Marcia Hanscom, the co-director of the Playa del Rey-based Ballona Institute.
“That’s very good news,” she said. “We mentioned the billboard issue to him when he came to the wetlands during his campaign, and we will continue urging him to include language in the new ordinance that does not allow a sign district or individual billboards near a wetlands or a state park.”
The City Council postponed taking a vote on a new sign ordinance that would include the creation of sign districts on May 27th, ostensibly to allow Trutanich time to review the recommendations put forth by the Planning Commission.
“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.”
Trutanich also stated that he would continue any current prosecutions of billboard companies that were underway before he took office. Last December, the council passed an ordinance that would place a moratorium on all new outdoor signs, both traditional and digital. Former City Attorney Rocky Degaldillo had initiated the prosecution of three operators for violating the ban.
“I intend to put teeth back in the law,” Trutanich promised. “I can assure you that we will prosecute those who violate the law not civilly but criminally.”
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl is confident that Trutanich will give the city attorney’s office a fresh perspective regarding outdoor signage.
“It’s a historic day,” the councilman said after Trutanich was sworn into office. “(Trutanich) comes from the private sector and is well-respected on both sides of the legal aisle.
“He’s an independent guy and I look forward to working with him on all of the important issues facing our city.”
Trutanich said that he is not entirely sure that sign districts are the best option for the city as its elected officials seek to strengthen how outdoor signs are regulated.
“We’re going to take another look at the ordinance,” the new city attorney said. “We’re going to have uniform criteria for all billboards and make sure that the permitting conditions are very strict.”
Several outdoor advertising firms sued Los Angeles in 2002 following an attempt by city officials to ban billboards, claiming that it violated their First Amendment rights. An appeals court ruled on January 6th that the council was within its legal right to place a prohibition on billboard signs.
Dennis Hathaway, a Venice resident who has led a citizen effort to catalog the number of billboards in Rosendahl’s district, is hopeful that Trutanich will be true to his word regarding the prosecution of those who violate the sign moratorium and in halting the proliferation of billboards in the 11th District.
“Most of us that are involved in fighting against illegal billboards and regulating outdoor signs are happy to see Rocky Delgadillo go, so any change is good,” he said. “Trutanich made some very good statements during his campaign, so now it’s time for words to translate into action.”
Rosendahl said he is also hopeful and added that Trutanich will need time in order to carry out what he says that he wants to do.
“He has several hundred attorneys that he has to work with, as well as the City Council,” Rosendahl pointed out. “It remains to be seen how he will be viewed on this issue.”
Hanscom views Trutanich as an outsider who has the potential to be more effective than Degadillo.
“He’s not part of the downtown lobbyist cabal, so I think that he will have a fresh take on the billboard issue,” said Hanscom. “He showed a very keen understanding of land use and the environment when I spoke to him during the campaign.”
Hathaway said that it was important that Trutanich provide sound leadership to the City Council, especially regarding the new ordinance and in fighting the lawsuits brought by outdoor sign firms.
“They have not received very good legal advice regarding billboards in the last eight years, in my opinion,” he said. “We’re hopeful that (Trutanich) will be successful, but we’ll have to wait and see.”
Trutanich said that he fully supports the current ban on outdoor signs and added that his office will not tolerate those who break the law.
“Ignorance of the law is no excuse,” he asserted. “If a sign company violates the law, they’re going to get a subpoena and summons, and I can assure you, they will be dragged into court.”