A Santa Monica resident recently became the second person to be arrested this year in Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich’s crusade against illegal billboards.
Trutanich’s office announced the arrest of Siamak Rahimi, 56, on Monday, Aug. 30 for allegedly erecting an outdoor advertisement on two sides of a building that he owns in Westchester at 9800 S. Sepulveda Blvd., near Los Angeles International Airport.
On Aug. 25, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Vanderet issued an arrest warrant for Rahimi, who was taken into custody Friday, Aug. 27.
Rahimi, LAX Enterprises, LP and Westside Investment Group each face 12 counts of illegally installing a supergraphic, 12 counts of illegally maintaining an offsite sign, 12 counts of obstructing fire department ingress and egress from the building and 12 counts for failure to identify the person or entity responsible for installing and maintaining the supergraphic, according to the city attorney.
Both advertisements are visible from the 405 Freeway.
Last year, the city’s Planning Commission considered creating 21 billboard districts throughout Los Angeles, including one along Century Boulevard near LAX.
The idea was tabled, and the City Council enacted an ordinance outlawing new outdoor signs and supergrahics, which have generated millions of dollars for the city due to their proliferation in recent years.
According to a statement released by Trutanich’s office, the Los Angeles Fire Department and the city’s Department of Building and Safety issued several safety and fire code violations to the defendants, who did not respond to the citations. Due to their proximity to the airport and heavily traveled Sepulveda Boulevard, the supergraphics pose a threat to the public and the safe operation of LAX, a department spokeswoman said.
The vacant multi-story office building is across the street from the airport’s entrance on Sepulveda.
Prior to taking office in July 2009, Trutanich promised that he would be much more aggressive against illegal supergraphics and outdoor signs than his predecessor, Rocky Delgadillo, who many anti-blight activists believe was too lenient on sign companies.
“I’m going to do the right thing by the people of Los Angeles,” Trutanich told The Argonaut the day before he took office. “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.”
Dennis Hathaway, the executive director of the nonprofit Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight, said he has been impressed by the city attorney’s diligence in pursuing legal actions against illegal signs.
“He’s fulfilling his campaign promise, and that’s encouraging,” said Hathaway, a Venice resident.
Deputy City Attorney Jacquelyn Lawson, who is prosecuting the case against Rahimi, agrees.
“This is our second arrest this year, and there are still between 170 to 200 illegal billboards that we are investigating,” she said.
In May, during budget talks, Jane Usher, a special assistant to Trutanich, publicly criticized Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s plan to reduce the city attorney’s staff by 104 positions. She said cutbacks to her department could have a dire effect on a number of initiatives that are of great importance to many local communities on the Westside, such as nuisance abatement and targeting illegal billboards.
“The net result of a possible reduction of enforcement would be an invitation to have less compliance than we already have today,” Usher said in an interview with The Argonaut.
Villaraigosa eventually backed away from his recommendation for cutbacks to Trutanich’s department.
Hathaway is grateful that the mayor did not pursue the personnel reductions that could have curtailed enforcement against illegal billboards and outdoor signs.
“That would not have been a good move, because (Trutanich) is not only forcing them to take their signs down, he’s also filed several lawsuits against these billboard companies for millions of dollars in fines,” he noted.
In February, the city attorney filed a civil law enforcement action against 27 defendants, including sign installers and property owners, for allegedly erecting illegal supergraphics throughout Los Angeles.
“If a sign company violates the law, they’re going to get a subpoena and a summons, and I assure you, they’re going to get dragged into court,” the city attorney promised during his interview with The Argonaut.
Lawson said she was unsure when the illegal supergraphics on the Sepulveda building would be taken down.
“We have issued a notice to comply, and compliance included removing the supergraphics,” she explained.
Rahimi has been released on $75,000 bail. At Argonaut press time, no arraignment date had been set.
Each of the charges carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.