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Proposal for Rooftop Ads Is Revoked

Billboards: West Hollywood reverses a decision to let a builder erect signs atop the Sunset Millennium development.

January 24, 2002|MARTHA GROVES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The West Hollywood City Council has revoked its decision to allow builder Mark A. Siffin to erect lucrative V-shaped billboards atop his Sunset Millennium development.

Without discussion, the council voted 3 to 2 Tuesday night to withdraw the approval.

Separately, a longtime supporter of the Sunset Strip project late Tuesday sued West Hollywood Mayor John Heilman and the council, contending that Heilman should not be allowed to vote on any actions related to the project because he lives within 500 feet of one of the buildings.

The complaint, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of West Hollywood resident Jehuda Renan, seeks to prohibit Heilman from participating in any future decisions about Sunset Millennium and to set aside any previous council votes in which he took part.

The rooftop advertising--and the overall project--have become highly contentious in the community, which is set between the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. Critics have complained that problems would outweigh any benefits to the city. West Hollywood will receive a projected $8 million in annual tax revenue from the project, which Siffin says will include a luxury hotel.

Opponents have cited spoiled views and the potential for vastly increased traffic along the already jammed stretch of Sunset Boulevard running from Sunset Plaza to the Mondrian Hotel. In addition, critics have warned that a street closure required by the development could delay firetrucks and ambulances.

In September, Siffin won authorization for billboards after telling officials that revenue from the signs was needed to help finance his $300-million project. Each eye-catching billboard was expected to draw about $60,000 monthly from advertisers, for a potential total of more than $4 million a year.

But he contended Wednesday that the rescission would not stymie his three-block-long development, which will include office and retail space in addition to the planned hotel.

"I'm working on another lease right now," Siffin said of the partially completed westernmost building, scheduled to open this summer. "The project is a great project that will move forward."

Siffin said he has lined up 17 of 28 tenants, including L'Occitane, the tony purveyor of French bath and body products.

The council had debated the billboard issue two weeks earlier, and there had been speculation that Siffin and his supporters might have prevailed on Councilman Sal Guarriello to change his no to a yes. But Guarriello joined Heilman and Councilman John Duran in voting to repeal the special authorization.

"I'm thrilled," G.G. Verrone, a leading opponent, said after the decision. "It has expressed the will of the people living in West Hollywood."

It isn't as if the vote would ensure a stretch of blank space in the thicket of towering ads along the Sunset Strip.

Siffin still will be entitled to mount billboards--more, in fact, than under the waiver he had requested--but he will now have to abide by limits outlined in a master plan for the area.

Among other rules: The only products that can be trumpeted will be those sold on the premises.

That, billboard opponents predict, will reduce the size of the ads and keep them more conventional.

Renan, who sued the mayor and council, is an obstetrician whose condominium association is scheduled to receive $120,000 from Siffin for a new roof in exchange for its support of the project.

Fredric D. Woocher, Renan's Santa Monica attorney, said Siffin had put the two in touch. Woocher said the arguments in the lawsuit rely on conflict-of-interest rules issued by the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

"I don't think this law is at all gray," Woocher said. "If you own a property valued at more than $2,000--and Heilman's luxury condominium is worth well more than $2,000--you are presumed to have a financial interest in any decision involving a property whose boundaries are within 500 feet of yours."

West Hollywood City Atty. Michael Jenkins said he had not yet read the complaint.

But he said he found it intriguing that "the very people who contended there was no impact from their proposed change in [billboard] content are now contending the exact opposite: that in fact there was an impact on Heilman's condo even."

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