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MONTEREY PARK : Firm Offers Money to 2 Groups if City Reverses Billboard Ban

November 10, 1994|RICHARD WINTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

An outdoor advertising company has angered the mayor of Monterey Park by offering money to two local nonprofit groups--if the City Council overturns its ban on new billboards.

Regency Outdoor Advertising Inc. seeks to put up 12 large billboards along the freeways in Monterey Park.

Mayor Judy Chu, who opposes any new billboards, and other local officials revealed that Regency representatives offered to give $70,000 a year for three years and $45,000 a year thereafter to the Monterey Park Chamber of Commerce and $10,000 annually to the Boys and Girls Club--if the council allows new billboards. The donations would have no end dates.

The council is expected to vote Monday on whether to amend the city's 5-year-old billboard ban to allow signs in manufacturing areas along the Pomona and Long Beach freeways.

Chu and other opponents are angry at what they say is an attempt to influence the council by privately promising to provide money to groups known to be popular with council members Fred Balderrama, Francisco Alonso and Marie T. Purvis.

"If we vote for this, it will send the message anyone can come in here and give a donation and build anything," Chu said.

Alonso countered that Chu "is just looking at those who are likely to vote for billboards and deciding they must be doing it for that reason. That's not our business. We look at the issue based on the merits."

He said he has not decided which way to vote, but that there seems little other use for the land in already blighted areas.

Robert Katherman, a consultant hired by Regency, said he believes the council will decide the issue on its merits.

He acknowledged that the company has "made offers" to help the chamber and the Boys and Girls Club, but said it has not finished negotiating the specifics of a contract to give them money once new billboards are allowed.

"We're not trying to hide anything," he said.

Katherman said Regency would give a discount of 25% to city businesses for billboard ads and provide nonprofit organizations with free advertising space. The billboards will increase the value of unused land, he said, and will not be visible from any city home.

Opponents, who made up the majority of speakers at last week's council hearing on the matter, say the signs are nothing more than blight, are visible to some homes and offices in the city's corporate center, and could be used to promote other cities' businesses.

"There's no such thing as a good billboard," Hamner said. "They visually impair an area and are environmental blight."

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