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Count Them and Cut Them

April 30, 2002

Two weeks ago, the Los Angeles City Council slapped a fee of almost $500 on each billboard in town to pay for the first citywide inventory of the thousands of outdoor signs that contribute to the visual clutter around town. The council's vote was just a baby step toward stopping the mushrooming illegal signs, but, given billboard lobbyists' fat wallets and cozy connections to several council members, the outcome was heartening.

Today, the council again takes up the hot issue of billboards. If lawmakers hold their resolve, L.A. residents finally may begin to see a reduction in the bombardment of signs and ads that confront us on our streets.

Two proposals before the council are worthy of support. One would make permanent the city's temporary ban on new billboards. A second proposal would get the ball rolling to create so-called special-use districts. In some communities--Hollywood might be one--neighbors see billboards as part of the local charm. Designation as a special-use district would allow new signs, but only in communities that demonstrated they wanted them.

Close to rejection, we hope, is the plan the outdoor advertisers wanted so badly last year that would have allowed them to erect 70 gigantic signs along local freeways--on land previously off limits to billboards--in exchange for demolishing an undetermined number of signs looming over city streets. Council members, including some who embraced this swap deal last year, now see it for what it is: a giveaway to the billboard companies with little payback for residents fed up with screaming advertisements visible in every direction.

The next big challenge will be to find ways to cut the number of billboards. The fee-funded inventory will identify illegal signs. Legal action should be the next step. When the skies overhead clear, Los Angeles residents once again can be proud of how our city looks.

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