Planning officials from Los Angeles International Airport are making the rounds in public to announce their plans for the possible installation of a sign district within the property of the airport.
The city’s Planning Department issued new proposals for a new sign ordinance last year that would allow for the creation of so-called sign districts. Under the provisions of the proposed ordinance, a sign district can include properties that are located “in the area of the Los Angeles International Airport Specific Plan if such a plan authorizes off-site signage through a sign district.”
The proposed ordinance would also allow the establishment of a sign district in areas that “include a stadium with a seating capacity of 50,000 or more.”
Lisa Trifiletti, a staff member with Los Angeles World Airports, which owns LAX, gave a presentation to the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa April 3 regarding the department’s application for a sign district near the airport.
“The sign district is limited to 502 acres of the interior portion of LAX,” Trifiletti told The Argonaut. “It is not expected to be at all visible from adjacent communities.”
An environmental analysis will be conducted on the proposed areas before the project is approved.
Denny Schneider, a member of the Westchester-Playa council, said the proposed sign designation is designed for dual purposes.
“The intent of the sign district to generate cash flow and better instructions along with an emergency warning system is both admirable and appropriate,” said Schneider, who belongs to an organization that is battling what it sees as airport encroachment on residences and businesses in Westchester.
“My concerns about the sign district are related to the LAWA general policy of applying words in documents written for one purpose to another unrelated issue as is being done to justify their LAX expansion proposals.”
Section A of the proposed ordinance states the purposes of sign districts are to “facilitate the creation of a unique quality, theme or character within districts that have a distinctive regional identity and that serve as regional destinations or hubs of commerce, culture, entertainment or international transportation.”
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who heads the council’s transportation committee, told The Argonaut that he had spoken with LAWA Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey, who confirmed that the signs would be located on land inside the airport.
“I consider this to be part of the airport’s modernization strategy of the (Tom Bradley International) Terminal,” said the councilman, referring to the iconic terminal that handles the majority of the airport’s international flights.
Trifiletti said no signs are planned on or near the Theme Building, which is undergoing a more than $1 billion renovation project.
According to the LAX Area Specific Plan, Lindsey is required to review and authorize all signs before they are erected.
Trifiletti said the application was anticipated in the LAX Specific Plan to allow for a sign district within the property of the airport.
Another stated purpose of a sign district is to eliminate blight or improve aesthetics or traffic safety.
The application for the sign district does not include the number of signs that would be permitted but planning officials have a certain amount of square footage in mind.
“We’re studying in an (environmental impact report) about a maximum of 80,000 square feet of proposed new signage, as well as about 289,600 square feet for passenger boarding bridges,” Trifiletti said.
A city planning document lists the second figure at approximately 289,600 square feet.
Schneider said there are segments of Westchester that could be affected by a sign district.
“I am concerned that small parts of Westchester are included in the boundary in the figure defining the area covered,” he said.
The proposed regulations of the project would supercede the Los Angeles Municipal Code guidelines.
The Westside has been inundated with commercial advertising over the last decade and a group of residents who view the abundance of signs and billboards as visual blight have become very vocal in their opposition to any new signs or sign districts.
Dozens of residents took part in a volunteer effort in 2008 to catalogue the billboards and signs in Council District 11 and they discovered that many had not been registered with the city’s Department of Building and Safety.
In late 2007, the City Council voted to outlaw new digital and traditional signs after hearing from angry constituents. Billboards later became a part of the political discussion during the 2009 election.
City Attorney Carmen Trutanich made reigning in illegal billboards one of his campaign staples in 2009 after he defeated former Councilman Jack Weiss, who came under fire months before the election for accepting a campaign donation in 2007 from the president of outdoor advertising firm World Wide Rush, which later sued Los Angeles over the sign ban.
The previous city attorney, Rocky Delgadillo, was heavily criticized for his role in negotiating what some anti-blight advocates called sweetheart deals with outdoor advertising companies and received substantial financial contributions from them.
Trutanich, who is now running for county district attorney, has prosecuted several building owners who have erected illegal signs and supergraphics, including one last year that was displayed on Sepulveda Boulevard within a mile of LAX.
David Ewing, a Venice resident who took part in cataloguing the billboards, took exception to Rosendahl’s view of the proposed sign district.
“For (Rosendahl) to say that this is just another part of the modernization is really disappointing,” he said. “He’s been very strong on this issue in the past and we expect better of him.”
Three years ago, city planners considered creating 21 sign districts, including one near the airport, another at the Howard Hughes Center in Westchester and one near the Ballona Wetlands. That proposal never made it to the City Council as anti-blight activists and environmental organizations banded together to oppose any signage near the wetlands.
Schneider said he is also concerned about certain types of signs that could be installed at the airport.
“If they are electronic, we need to ensure that they are not visible from outside of LAX. We have seen huge electric signs on the 405 (freeway) that can be seen for several miles and that is just unacceptable,” he asserted. “They haven’t suggested signs be built into the taxiways – yet – but we need to make sure the language is very specific.”
Rosendahl appears not to view the proposed LAX sign district as he has others in the past.
“It won’t impact any of my constituents any more than any other passengers going through the Bradley Terminal,” he said. “As long as they are tasteful, of good quality and add to the experience of the Bradley Terminal, I trust (Lindsey) on that.”
Schneider mentioned the need to make certain that infrastructure near the airport not be jeopardized.
“Additional signs, if attached to the upper roadway, could also cause further degradation of the bridge structure,” he added.
Ewing was struck by the amount of square footage for signs that is being requested. “Are they going to finance for the entire airport’s modernization with signs?” he asked.
Calls to Trutanich’s office for comment were not returned.
The draft EIR is slated to be released in the summer and a final EIR, as well as a public hearing, will be considered in the fall.