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City Council Orders Count of Billboards

Advertising: Members want an inventory of outdoor signs and demand an explanation for delays in moving against the illegal ones.

January 17, 2002|PATRICK McGREEVY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Frustrated with delays in tightening regulation of the billboard industry, the Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday ordered an inventory of outdoor advertisements as a first step toward cracking down on illegal signs.

Some council members voiced concern that the city attorney's office has not completed regulations ordered last June. The council called on City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo and building officials to explain the delays in two weeks.

The action came hours after Delgadillo announced that he had filed 70 misdemeanor charges against two firms for posting small, illegal signs on streets in the San Fernando Valley.

Billboard companies spent $425,000 on advertising that promoted Delgadillo's campaign for city attorney last year, and since then he has been trying to demonstrate his independence.

That was the message he sought to convey Wednesday in announcing the charges against House2Home and Siggy Signs. The signs, advertising a going-out-of-business sale, were posted on city poles and property along Sherman Way, Nordhoff Street, Mason Avenue and De Soto Avenue.

Earlier this month, Delgadillo obtained a court order temporarily blocking the construction of big billboards along area freeways.

"My office will continue to be vigilant against those companies who choose to disregard local laws and degrade our communities," Delgadillo said in a statement.

The council in June directed the city attorney's office to draft an ordinance that would require all billboards to display city permits. The council also told building officials last year to take inventory of the billboards by asking companies to voluntarily disclose their signs' locations.

"Six months ago, there was direction to do something and nothing has been done to our knowledge," Councilman Dennis Zine said.

Ben Austin, a spokesman for Delgadillo, said attorneys must coordinate with other departments and consider complex state laws in drafting the ordinance.

"This is a complicated process that involves not only the Planning Department but also state environmental laws. But make no mistake about it, we will have this completed before we testify before the council," Austin said. "We will come down on the side of neighborhoods, not on the side of the billboard industry."

On Wednesday, council members reiterated their June requests and went even further. Delgadillo was directed to draft an ordinance requiring a mandatory, rather than voluntary, inventory of signs by the advertising firms. The council continued to insist that billboards display city permit information but directed the city attorney to explore the possibility of using a bar-code system to allow for easy inspection.

"With a complete list of signs, we will identify illegal billboards and take swift steps to remove them," Councilman Jack Weiss said.

Alan Wendell of the Building and Safety Department said his office lacks the manpower to provide the enforcement the council is seeking. Officials estimate that the council will have to provide $3 million a year for the effort.

The council also asked its staff to draft a fee proposal to pay for more inspectors to target illegal billboards.

"The reality is that the billboard companies have been running a power play against us," Weiss said. "With this measure, the city will no longer be outgunned, out-muscled and outmaneuvered by the sign companies."

Councilwoman Janice Hahn said something should have been done sooner.

"It's frustrating," she said. "We ask for reports and, unless someone happens to remember, these things are languishing all over the city of Los Angeles."

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