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City Council Votes Against Billboard Removal Payment

Decision: Board rejects company's $15.6-million demand for signs coming down in street overhaul.

July 11, 2002|SEEMA MEHTA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday unanimously rejected a billboard company's demand for $15.6 million in compensation for tearing down a dozen billboards on Santa Monica Boulevard on the Westside.

The ads, located on publicly owned medians, are to be removed as part of a $69-million plan to turn the main road and Little Santa Monica Boulevard into one wide, tree-lined thoroughfare between Century City and the San Diego Freeway. The company, Clear Channel Outdoor, has rented billboard space on patches of an old railroad right of way on a monthly basis for decades.

Meeting in closed session, the council also voted 13 to 0 to reject the firm's alternate proposal to relocate the 12 billboards elsewhere in the city and accept $3.5 million in compensation. Earlier this year, the council eliminated new billboards within city limits.

Councilman Jack Weiss said he found the company's behavior "galling."

"They have benefited for decades from a month-to-month opportunity at the crossroads of the commercial world in Los Angeles," he said. "The fact that they're not content with that extraordinary opportunity is galling."

Clear Channel officials said they hoped to continue discussions with the city.

"There is a taking of personal property. That requires a payment," said George Manyak, western regional president for Clear Channel Outdoor. "I would hope there would be more negotiations rather than going to a legal process, but we're fully prepared to [sue]."

Manyak added that there is precedent for compensation in similar circumstances.

Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski strongly disagreed with the company's claims. During the council meeting before the closed session, she cited a recent court decision involving a similar claim on billboards near Los Angeles International Airport. The city "won overwhelmingly," she said.

In this case, "they were 30-day leases--month to month. We can give them 30 days' notice," she said. "They are entitled to 30 days," nothing more.

The city has reached a separate agreement with Viacom Outdoors to take down its two billboards in the area this fall, officials on both sides said. Terms of that deal were not released.

The road overhaul, paid for by a combination of local, state and federal money, is expected to begin in January. The combination of the main road popularly known as Big Santa Monica Boulevard and Little Santa Monica Boulevard will be a massive undertaking, with construction expected to take at least two years. The result will be a landscaped roadway that can handle up to 20% more traffic.

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