The Los Angeles Planning Commission has been directed to once again consider a municipal sign ordinance proposal to erect logos and banners in city parks, two months after the commission recommended that these signs be excluded from consideration.
The City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee requested that the commission take another look at a plan first introduced by the private nonprofit group the Los Angeles Parks Foundation to place banners and logos in recreational areas of the city, including Venice Beach and Mar Vista Park.
The city and the respective park advisory boards can derive revenue from the placement of these logos and banners, city officials argue.
The request to again consider signs in municipal parks comes almost a month after Councilwoman Jan Perry told the Venice Neighborhood Council that she would assist the board in crafting an exemption to the new ordinance after learning of the intense opposition to signs at Venice Beach.
“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 said. She suggested that residents contact the neighborhood council to include language that supports an exemption.
Nearly a dozen residents displayed placards to highlight their opposition to signs at the beach during Perry’s appearance at the Venice meeting. The councilwoman is a supporter of having banners and signs in parks for many of the same reasons advocated by the parks foundation and Recreation and Parks.
On Dec. 9, Jane Usher, a special assistant city attorney to City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, told The Argonaut that she did not foresee any hurdles if the Venice council sought an exemption for Venice Beach.
“(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,)” Usher said.
The PLUM committee directed the commission at an Oct. 18 meeting to ensure that what is known as the “interior sign exception” could not be used as a loophole to allow offsite signs in public facilities and city parks.
The commission was also asked to close any loopholes in the proposed ordinance that would permit offsite signs to be erected.
In 2008 the City Council banned offsite signs throughout the city. Since the city prevailed in a lawsuit against outdoor advertising company World Wide Rush LLC Nov. 12, 2009, the council has been examining how to incorporate the court’s findings into its municipal sign ordinance.
Attorneys for the outdoor advertising firm argued that it had a First Amendment right to erect new signs or supergraphics because it requested permits in 2008, between the period that the city implemented its ban and the time that Los Angeles’ 2002 ban had been reversed.
Deputy Planning Director Alan Bell reminded the committee members that the planning commission had recommended keeping signs out of city parks and that is what the proposed ordinance change reflected.
“The language (in the ordinance) precludes city facilities from filing for sign programs,” Bell added.
Department of Recreation and Parks General Manager Jon Kirk Mukri addressed concerns with the proposed exemption at a Dec. 5 planning meeting with a plea to allow some form of logos or banners from donors in city facilities, the same proposal that the parks foundation brought forth months ago.
“I feel that Section 591 of the city charter gives our commission the authority to regulate what goes on in our parks,” Mukri told the committee. “This ordinance, as it stands, does not give us the flexibility and does not give you the flexibility that you need in your districts.
“This ordinance will create a problem that simply does not exist in our parks right now.”
Programs that are essential to residents will be cut unless their revenue can be generated, Mukri added.
Mar Vista resident Ken Alpern agrees that there is a need for money for recreation but does not think that allowing businesses or individuals to have their logos or banners installed in parks is the solution.
“I think we need to think of ways to raise more revenue for our parks, but the problem with creating more signage is that we re-create the same problems we’ve seen with signage to fund our streets, services and other public priorities,” he noted.
Twelve other neighborhood councils in addition to the Venice council oppose installing banners in public parks.
Venice residents have voiced their disenchantment with the concept of commercials signs along public thoroughfares, on Venice Beach and in kiosks near major intersections that are known as street furniture.
Los Angeles currently has a 20-year contract with CBS Outdoors/JC Decaux, an outdoor advertising agency, to place advertising inside and to maintain street furniture in Venice. Bus benches and shelters, waste receptacles and public restrooms fall under the general definition of street furniture.
The Argonaut discovered in May 2009 that the street furniture in Venice is required to have permits from the California Coastal Commission because the structures are considered to be development and are located in the coastal zone. While the kiosks and benches have city permits, they do not have coastal development permits.
Many Venice residents hold views on outdoor signage similar to those of David Ewing, who attended the Nov. 15 neighborhood council meeting in Venice.
“I don’t like to see public space occupied by commercial interests,” he said.
Mukri said his department is not seeking to install the types of signs or supergraphics in city parks that many Venice residents oppose. “We will never put up a billboard; we will never put up a supergraphic,” he pledged.
Alpern thinks there are other methods that city officials can employ to bring in funding for park services and programs.
“If the Los Angeles City Council is truly interested in funding our parks, then perhaps we could give some tax credits or similar benefits to merchants to come up with the funding for playground equipment or park recreational facilities, and allow a small sign of acknowledgement for where this equipment and/or facilities were funded,” he said.
“I do not think that park advisory boards require special funding at the expense of those who use the parks.”
Alpern offered a possible solution to maintaining programs offered by city recreational facilities to alleviate the city’s responsibility to fund them.
“Maybe it’s high time we had the equivalent of a Measure L for our parks, because our budget must include parks as much as we need our libraries, particularly to meet the needs of our children, and particularly because during this economic downturn we need to ensure ourselves and our children a place to go, a place to read, a place to relax, a place to have fun, and a place to play,” he suggested.
Measure L is a ballot measure approved by Los Angeles voters in March to increase spending on public libraries.
The final sign ordinance will come before the City Council next year.