Despite a legal ruling that private individuals have no right to rip down illegally posted real estate signs, two homeowner groups are continuing to war against the placards that appear each weekend along Ventura Boulevard.
Tarzana anti-sign vigilante Joel Palmer says he is still tearing down the signs, even though an opinion from the Los Angeles city attorney's office says he could be charged with vandalism.
Encino homeowner leader Gerald Silver said his group has ended its six-month drive to pull down signs but has tried a new tactic--filing a misdemeanor complaint against one of the sign installers.
The focus of the Ventura Boulevard struggle is the forest of temporary signs, advertising housing developments, that sprout there and on other thoroughfares every Friday night.
Installers say the 12-by-18-inch cardboard signs, which are normally removed Sunday night, are the only way to catch the eyes of weekend house hunters.
Outnumber Open-House Signs
Opponents say the home advertisements, often attached to power poles or wooden stakes driven into the ground, are even more numerous than the open-house signs that real estate agents erect on weekends.
All signs on public property, including parkways and sidewalks, are illegal and subject to removal, said William Bradford, the city's chief street-use inspector for the San Fernando Valley.
Those installing signs are subject to citation under a city ordinance that carries a suggested $25 fine, Bradford said.
However, enforcement crews never work on weekends, he said, "and these installers know exactly when we go off duty."
Bradford said city inspectors usually file only one or two such complaints a year "because it is very rare for our people to catch someone in the act."
City officials said that a complaint lodged by Silver, president of Homeowners of Encino, against installer David Laubacher, 29, of Canoga Park, could become a test of whether private individuals can successfully file such complaints.
Hearing Scheduled June 26
A June 26 hearing has been scheduled in Van Nuys City Hall to determine whether the city attorney's office will formally charge Laubacher, said Michael Louthian, senior hearing officer.
Louthian said that, in 11 years of handling complaints, he could recall no case in which a private individual attempted to file such an action.
Laubacher, a computer analyst who earns extra money by installing the signs for Directional Design, a Calabasas outdoor advertising firm, said that he is "convinced there is nothing morally wrong with putting up the signs."
"We erect them neatly," he said, "take them down on Sunday, and we even take down those homemade signs we find in order to improve an area's overall appearance."
He said that he "will never again work on Ventura Boulevard, where I get hassled. I usually work Woodland Hills, and nobody there cares about the signs."
Charles Castleforte, part owner of Directional Design, which erects most of the weekend signs along Ventura Boulevard, acknowledged that his signs are illegal in Los Angeles. Castleforte said Directional Design is one of several companies in Southern California that dominate the business of putting up developers' placards.
Sees 'No Other Way'
But, he said, there is "no other way to get the drive-by traffic. If there is, I wish someone would tell me about it, so I could get on it."
Castleforte said that, even if some of his employees are cited and eventually fined, he views complaints from private citizens as "not much of a threat" because his placards are "only a small part of all the different signs out there."
Silver said he will "insist on prosecution in this and other cases. The question is whether these firms can ignore the law and pollute our streets week after week for their own profit."
City Attorney's Opinion
Silver said he and other Encino activists stopped removing the signs upon receipt of a city attorney's opinion stating that a sign can be removed by a private individual only if it is abandoned.
Without strong evidence of abandonment, "it would not be prudent for private persons to remove illegally posted signs" because they could be charged with vandalism, the opinion declared.
Palmer, president of the Tarzana Property Owners Assn., said he considered the legal opinion, requested by City Councilman Marvin Braude, to be "immaterial. I don't expect anyone to be charging me with anything when I am removing signs that are posted illegally."
Palmer said that he sometimes tears down as many as 200 signs in a weekend, but that "there seems to be no end to them. They just keep coming."