Two Calabasas billboards--which urge motorists on the Ventura Freeway to buy new homes, drink bourbon and smoke cigarettes--are at the center of a legal imbroglio pitting Los Angeles County against the signs' owner.
County officials say the dual-faced signs are illegal because new billboards were banned along the freeway years ago.
But a spokesman for the billboards' owner, the National Advertising Co., said the signs are old ones whose appearances changed when they got a face lift.
The dispute may be resolved in court.
'See Them in Court'
The county warned National Advertising in a letter last month that the matter would be referred to the district attorney's office for criminal action if the company did not tear down the signs or ask for a reprieve from the Department of Regional Planning within 30 days.
"I can't personally see how any judge or anybody else could justify them staying up," said Louis Pera, the regional planning department's zoning-enforcement supervisor. "When their time is up, we'll see them in court."
But Ray Paschke a National Advertising spokesman, said the company has no intention of dismantling the signs or seeking belated permission to keep them. He warned that his company, a wholly owned subsidiary of the 3M Corp., will challenge the constitutionality of the county's ban on new freeway billboards if it is taken to court.
The billboard showdown became public after Supervisor Mike Antonovich received complaints from residents who feared that the signs signaled a new proliferation of roadway advertisements in the area.
The Board of Supervisors agreed Tuesday to look into whether the county's billboard regulations need tightening.
National Advertising did not notify the county about the upgrading of the billboards because the state Department of Transportation had approved it, Paschke said.
However, a Caltrans official said National Advertising also needed permission from the county.
"It's blatantly untrue that a state permit preempts the need for a local permit," said Stan Lancaster, chief of highway outdoor advertising programs, who called the sign company's position "amazing."
The two sides also disagree on whether the billboards, on the south side of the Ventura Freeway just west of the Parkway Calabasas exit, are new.
Pera said the billboards are much larger than the pair National Advertising previously displayed on the sites. In addition, he said, they are supported with large single-steel poles rather than several wooden poles and could only be considered "entirely different structures."
While conceding that the billboards look different, Paschke said the "reconfigured" signs display the same advertising panels and, therefore, are not new. He said he wished that critics would appreciate that the signs are more attractive.
"I think it looks a hell of a lot better now," he said. "Our advertisers certainly like it."