The Los Angeles city attorney's office announced Monday that it will prosecute a sign installer arrested in April on a complaint by anti-sign vigilantes who have been ripping down developers' placards.
The defendant, David Laubacher, 29, of Canoga Park, acknowledged in a June interview that he is responsible for many of the real estate signs posted each weekend along thoroughfares in the West San Fernando Valley.
Laubacher will be charged with violating both a city sign ordinance and a state law, said Michael Louthian, senior hearing officer for the city attorney's office.
Laubacher faces a maximum sentence of six months in jail and a $1,025 fine if convicted.
The vigilantes, most of them leaders of homeowners' groups who say they have been pulling down hundreds of the illegally erected signs each weekend, aver that, if the prosecution is successful, they will lodge complaints against other posters of signs whom they have been shadowing.
Some say they will continue ripping down the signs regardless of the outcome of the case.
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The focus of their wrath is the forest of temporary signs that sprouts every Friday night on the Valley's major streets to advertise housing developments.
Installers say the cardboard signs, typically 12 by 18 inches and usually attached to power poles or wooden stakes, are always removed by Sunday night.
The decision to prosecute Laubacher was under review for two months. "We had to see if this was a case we could successfully prosecute." said Michael Louthian, senior hearing officer for the city attorney's office. "In 11 years in this office, I don't recall a private individual ever filing such an action," he said Monday.
The initial complaint was lodged by Gerald A. Silver, president of Homeowners of Encino. At an informal hearing in Louthian's office in June, representatives of several other homeowners groups also accused Laubacher of posting signs.
Laubacher, a computer consultant during the week, was not available for comment Monday. He had said in June that he is "convinced there is nothing morally wrong with putting up the signs."
Under the city ordinance, 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 Valley. Those installing signs are subject to citation and face a suggested $25 fine, Bradford said.
State law, which only applies to "for sale" signs, makes it a misdemeanor, carrying a maximum $1,000 fine and six months in jail, to erect or direct others to erect the signs on public property.
However, enforcement crews never work on weekends, Bradford said, "and these installers know exactly when we go off duty."
Laubacher has said that his employer, Directional Designs of Calabasas, pledged to pay his fines and "make up for any work lost."
Officials at Directional Design would not comment Monday. In an earlier interview, Charles Castelforte, part owner of the firm, acknowledged that his signs are illegally placed on public property because there is "no other way to get the drive-by traffic."
Castelforte said his firm is "one of several" that erects developer's placards, but declined to say how many signs his firm installs each weekend. Nor would he identify other firms doing similar work.
The campaign against signs began in October when Joel Palmer, president of the Tarzana Property Owners Assn., urged in a newsletter that activists rip them down.
Palmer said he has continued to tear down up to 200 signs a weekend despite a city attorney's opinion in March stating that an illegally erected 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.