Joining previous officeholders who have accepted offers from the Venice Neighborhood Council to address its community on a variety of local concerns, Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich took part in a question and answer session with Venice residents June 19.
Trutanich, who came in third place in his bid to replace Steve Cooley as the county district attorney June 5, answered questions on homelessness, his office’s budget and billboards at the neighborhood council’s monthly meeting.
After the meeting, the city attorney was asked by The Argonaut for his thoughts on another topic of concern that was not raised at the meeting: a recommendation from a private foundation that would permit company logos on Venice Beach in exchange for donations to the parks.
The Los Angeles Parks Foundation has proposed permitting corporations to install their images on trash receptacles, on restroom structures and bleachers along the boardwalk.
Los Angeles Parks Foundation Executive Director Judith Keiffer said recognizing donors that contribute to the city’s parks with banners or a logo is not the same as erecting billboards, which are prohibited under city law.
“With generous donations from our sponsors, there is an opportunity to have their name displayed,” she explained in an interview last year.
Asked how the city would proceed on this recommendation by the foundation, Trutanich responded, “We have to act very carefully. Remember, when I took office, the federal courts enjoined us from enforcing our own billboard ordinance.”
The city attorney was referring to a lawsuit brought against Los Angeles by outdoor sign companies due to a 2002 ban enacted by the City Council that was later settled in 2006 by Trutanich’s predecessor, Rocky Delgadillo.
The settlement allowed outdoor advertisers to transform nearly 850 billboards into digital advertising in exchange for removing many of the static signs.
City leaders banned digital billboards in 2008 amid calls from constituents who consider many of the electronic signs to be visual blight. Worldwide Rush, an outdoor advertising firm, sued and a federal judge enjoined Los Angeles from fining billboard companies that erected signs.
In May 2010, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the lower court ruling. Subsequent court rulings have upheld the city’s billboard ban.
Venice residents have praised Trutanich for his stance on billboard law violators. He kept a 2009 campaign promise to crack down on illegal billboard operators and has prosecuted several during his three-plus years in office.
Residents have also vociferously opposed the notion of having corporate logos installed on Venice Beach.
“Signs in any city park is a bad idea,” said Venice Neighborhood Council President Linda Lucks. “(Parks) are one of the few places where you’re not bombarded with signage.”
Lucks’ council voted unanimously last May to oppose any outdoor signage or logos on Venice Beach.
Barbara Duffy of the Venice Beach Merchants Association spoke against corporate logos on Venice Beach at the May 24 meeting last year. “We oppose the commercialization of the Westside in any form,” she told the local council.
Keiffer has denied that her foundation has a proposal to install logos and corporate images on the boardwalk.
Late last year, city planning officials proposed creating sign districts throughout the city, including one at Los Angeles International Airport.
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.”
Trutanich said the idea to create sign districts is viewed by some city leaders as a way to allow areas of the city that are more amenable to billboards to erect them legally, but having them in city parks could create another legal quandary.
“We now have sign districts that will allow us to modify and employ new billboards throughout the city within a sign district. I didn’t want to see us go back to where we started when we had 50 lawsuits from every billboard company in the world,” he explained. “We need to be cognizant of how we move forward in dealing with this.
“This whole area of advertising in the park opens a whole new front on what is banned in the city.”
Councilwoman Jan Perry was invited by Lucks Nov. 15 to visit the neighborhood council. Like Trutanich, she too took questions, including several regarding her support for allowing signs and logos in city parks.
Perry, who is running for mayor, offered a compromise of sorts to Venice residents.
“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.”
The councilwoman said she represented the majority of the parks in downtown Los Angeles and having corporate sponsorship was one of the few approaches of which city officials could avail themselves given the current fiscal crisis.
“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,” she said.
Jane Usher, a special assistant to Trutanich, said there were options that some neighborhood councils could take to escape having signs along the boardwalk.
“Yes, an exemption like that is possible,” Usher, who accompanied Trutanich to Venice, confirmed in a December interview. “(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).”
While she opposes signs in city parks, Lucks believes a short-term summertime venture for the boardwalk could cast a shadow across Venice residents’ opposition to signs in city parks.
The Venice council narrowly approved a three-month plan to install a zipline near Windward Plaza on the boardwalk last month, a plan that some decry as “commercializing” Venice. The plan will be considered by the California Coastal Commission July 2.
“It will take up air space on the boardwalk and some people have said we should not be making money off the boardwalk,” Lucks noted.
Mar Vista Park has also been considered for logos and signage.
Pammela Jackson of the Mar Vista Park Advisory Board could not be reached for comment at Argonaut press time.
Trutanich realizes that many Venice residents are worried about the possibility of signs coming to Venice Beach.
“It’s an important issue and people in Venice are right to be concerned about where it ends up,” he said.