Asking politely didn't work, and neither did citing existing laws or passing a temporary ban. So La Canada Flintridge went to court last week to get an order that would force a sign company to tear down parts of two billboards on Foothill Boulevard.
The city contends that Gannett Outdoor Advertising Inc. of Southern California violated zoning laws when it added a second side to each of two billboards along the city's main thoroughfare.
However, Gannett maintains that it altered the billboards only after it researched city statutes and found nothing to prohibit construction.
"It's a difference of interpretation," said Ron Beals, an attorney for Gannett. Beals said the company would remove the offending billboard faces if ordered by the court to do so.
City Manager Don Otterman said the city filed a civil action in Superior Court in Glendale last Thursday and plans to ask the district attorney's office to file criminal charges against Gannett this week.
"They were purely testing the city to see where we were going to go with it," said Bill Campbell, planning director of La Canada Flintridge. "Well, we're going to go forward."
The suit reflects the city's concern for preserving the rustic flavor of the community and controlling commercial growth. City planners are now reviewing the sign laws and looking at five other possibly nonconforming billboards.
Campbell said Gannett failed to obtain the building permit required to expand the billboards. The permit would not have been granted in any case, he said, because zoning laws prohibit such construction within 200 feet of residences.
Besides, he said, the City Council in February enacted a 45-day ban prohibiting construction of new billboards or expansion of existing ones. The ban, which was later extended through next February, was prompted by the original request from Gannett to add sides on the two billboards.
Beals said the billboards were expanded during a one-day interval between the date the original ban was to have expired and the council's vote extending it.
"We waited patiently for the 45 days. The city didn't count as well as we did and, in our view, there was no ordinance existing in the city when we went in there," he said.
However, city officials say the ban on new construction or expansion of existing signs merely constituted an extra layer of protection and Gannett was still bound by the city's zoning laws.
A court hearing is expected to be scheduled for early June, Assistant City Atty. Stephanie R. Scher said.