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They'd Like to Put This Ad on Death Row

Billboard: City councilman says sign for new rap album is 'over the top.' Neighbors are circulating a petition condemning it.

June 18, 2002|BOB POOL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Like a broken record, those in the Wilshire district kept repeating the same refrain Monday about a controversial record company billboard: "Take it down!"

They were angry about the sign atop the Death Row Records building at the intersection of Wilshire and San Vicente boulevards that depicts a man sitting on a toilet with his pants down.

Beneath the toilet and a drawing of a partially unfurled roll of toilet tissue is a catch phrase containing an obscenity.

The V-shaped, lighted billboard advertises a new rap music album. It towers over a glass-walled office building between the Beverly Hills city limits and Los Angeles' popular Museum Row.

"It's inappropriate for this area. Even if it was downtown, I don't think it would be appropriate," said Steve Hawkins, a business consultant who works in an office building nearby on Wilshire Boulevard.

Los Angeles officials agree. They say complaints about the billboard have poured into City Hall since the ad for an album called "Say Hi to the Bad Guy" was erected a week ago.

City Councilman Jack Weiss, who represents the area, said he intends today to call for an investigation into whether the billboard meets both structural and decency laws.

Court cases in the past have suggested that obscenity laws are tied to community standards, but Weiss said the billboard "is so over the top" that it has to be investigated.

"This is at a gateway to an exclusively residential area. I'm a 1st Amendment absolutist, but I think we have to ask the question whether this actually meets the legal test for obscenity," he said Monday.

"It's certainly hard to imagine a community" whose standards would include "using the bathroom with a scatological message," Weiss said.

Weiss said he will ask the City Council to seek a ruling from the city attorney's office on the language and from the Building and Safety Department on the billboard's "physical legality."

Leaders of the Beverly-Wilshire Homeowners Assn., meantime, were gathering signatures on a petition condemning the billboard as passersby on bustling Wilshire Boulevard shook their heads over it.

In the building beneath the billboard, Death Row Records officials, known for songs such as "Serial Killa," refused to comment.

"We're a record company. We're promoting," said an employee before ordering a security guard to shut the door in a reporter's face. "I didn't give him permission to write anything down," she told the guard.

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