The proliferation of billboards throughout Los Angeles and particularly on the Westside has drawn the ire of a collaboration of residents, artists and the office of Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl.
Opponents of the influx of large-scale billboard advertisements applauded a recent recommendation by a city commission that could play a crucial role in reducing what many consider to be an unsightly blight on their neighborhoods and communities.
On October 17th, the City of Los Angeles Planning Commission recommended a 12-month moratorium on converting traditional signs to digital advertising.
“I am tired of Los Angeles being the doormat of the billboard industry,” said Jane Usher, the commission’s president, after the unan- imous vote.
The Westside has been a target of these large and often brightly-lit signs, and angry residents have begun to fight back against the sign companies.
“There is definitely an overabundance of them on the Westside,” says Dennis Hathaway, who heads the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight, a Venice organization that is seeking to curb the number of electronic and traditional billboards in the coastal area. “I don’t know if many of them have permits.”
Mar Vista homeowner Albert Olson is not a fan of the electronic signs either.
“They bother me from two perspectives; from an esthetic point of view, and I also feel that they are dangerous,” Olson, the first vice chair of the Mar Vista Community Council, told The Argonaut.
Olson says that the light from digital signs can often be quite intense and can lead to distractions to motorists on busy thoroughfares like Venice and Lincoln Boulevards.
“The problem is, there are many of them on our arterial streets, and when you’re looking and driving, it’s a problem,” he noted.
In addition to the commission’s recommendation, City Attorney Ricky Delgadillo also proposed his own version of a moratorium on outdoor advertising. Delgadillo recommended a six-month halt on the installation or modification of all billboards in Los Angeles. This would allow the City Council to craft a new billboard policy, said the city attorney’s office.
Some of the firms that have outdoor sign advertising contracts with the city say they are not against new talks with city officials regarding outdoor advertising.
“We are always willing to sit down at the table with the city,” said Ryan Brooks of CBS Outdoor, a billboard company.
On Tuesday, October 21st, the Venice Neighborhood Council unanimously approved a motion supporting the commission’s action.
“What we’re really trying to say is that the city should really hold off on any more billboards until we thoroughly vet what negative effect, if any, there is on our community,” said Mike Newhouse, the council president.
Rosendahl applauded the commission’s recommendation.
“I’m thrilled that Jane [Usher] has called for a moratorium,” the councilman said in a recent interview. “I have been complaining about the proliferation of these billboards in my district for a long time, and it’s time to do something about them.”
Like Olson and Hathaway, Rosendahl believes that these flashing signs are a safety hazard.
“Along with the safety issue, they are visual blight and, frankly, I think that allowing these billboards was a bad business deal for the city,” he asserted.
Rosendahl has submitted a council motion asking the Department of Building and Safety to take an inventory of all billboards in his district. After the city reached agreements with certain billboard companies that would allow an inspection program to move forward in 2002, it required the owners of the sign companies to take down many billboards and provide city officials with an inventory of all off-site signs and their locations. To date, however, that has not taken place, due to ongoing litigation.
Some of the advertising companies have requested that the inventory lists they provide be preserved as proprietary information not subject to the California Public Records Act.
“We’re assaulted by these signs every day,” he said.
Muralists in Los Angeles are also upset about the number of traditional billboards that have sprouted up, taking the place of murals.
Judy Baca, founder and executive director of the Social and Public Arts Resource Center (SPARC), a Venice-based community arts nonprofit organization, has taken issue with the city’s sign ordinance as it is written and the disparagement she feels exists for decorative artworks in public space, along with the surge in commercial graphics on buildings and banners around Los Angeles.
Baca, a UCLA professor of fine arts and a renowned muralist who directed the painting of The Great Wall of Los Angeles, said to be one of the world’s largest murals, believes that comparing murals to advertising leads to less art and more commercial graphics around the city.
“When the sign ordinance was enacted, the city didn’t make a clear distinction between a sign and a mural,” Baca said in an interview at SPARC earlier this year. “They tied it to language, and made a distinction that a mural is less than three percent text and a sign has more text.”
Rosendahl is hopeful that during the moratorium, the sign ordinance can be amended so that murals and signs are not considered to have equal value.
“A mural is a work of art that is culturally enriching,” he said. “A billboard is commercialization.”
Hathaway considers the Planning Commission’s recommendation to be good news as well.
“I think that it’s a positive step,” he said. “The city should have never allowed the conversion to take place without public hearings.”
But he added that unless city officials craft a new law regarding billboards that is more responsive to public opinion regarding sign companies placing their advertisements throughout communities in large quantities, not much will have changed.
“We’ve got to make sure that the city sign ordinance will give the public a voice about what goes up in their neighborhoods,” Hathaway cautioned.
Billboard opponents are hopeful that if residents in the Eleventh Council District are able to halt the influx of signs and digital advertising, other parts of the city might begin to take action as well.
“If we can show a pilot program in our district that works, it could succeed in other districts,” Hathaway reasons.
Hathaway and a group of volunteers will spend the day Saturday, October 25th, taking an inventory of all the billboards in Rosen- dahl’s district, an action that city officials were asked to do by Rosendahl.
The councilman said that he will join them in cataloguing the billboards and signs.
“We’re going to do what the city should have done a long time ago,” Rosendahl pledged. “We’re fed up, and we’ve had it.”