The Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to settle a lawsuit by Regency Outdoor Advertising by granting the firm tentative permission to modernize, legalize or add dozens of billboards.
The settlement, approved 12 to 0, allows Regency to modernize, with high-tech screens and other features, up to a quarter of its estimated 150 billboard posts, or 37 signs.
Alternatively, it can get approval for 37 signs for which permits were not previously obtained, or it can put a second billboard on existing structures for up to 37 new billboards, provided they meet other conditions.
The settlement is similar to deals struck with three other billboard firms that also had sued the city four years ago over an ordinance requiring all billboards be inspected and illegal signs be removed.
Those other settlements, including two that have not been finalized, would allow firms to get permits for up to 840 new billboards or to modernize or legalize the same number of existing billboards.
The provision allowing hundreds of new or existing illegal billboards to get permits troubled Councilman Jack Weiss, who nevertheless voted for the deal as a compromise.
"I've never been terribly fond of these settlements," Weiss said.
Regency has 150 sign structures that can hold up to 300 billboards in Los Angeles, officials said. A Regency representative did not return a call for comment.
Council President Eric Garcetti said the latest settlement enables the city to conduct a firm inventory of existing signs and to take down some of those built after 1999 without permits.
Garcetti said while the lawsuits have dragged through the courts, one section of Echo Park Drive that he travels now has 15 billboards.
"We know the cost of litigating for year after year -- for a lot of communities the blight stays up," Garcetti said.
The settlements, negotiated by the office of City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo, have come under fire from beautification advocates because they allow hundreds of new or illegal existing billboards to get permits, despite the fact the city has won almost every suit to date.
In addition, some community activists are skeptical of Delgadillo's involvement because he was elected in 2001 after billboard firms provided $424,000 in advertising space advocating his candidacy.
They also have contributed tens of thousands of dollars directly to his and City Council campaigns.
"A lot of us feel we are already overwhelmed by these signs," said Robert Cherno, a board member with the Fairfax Residents Assn. "It's just an outrage that they are paying back favors at the expense of the community."
However, Assistant City Atty. Sharon Cardenas called the settlement a good deal for the city.
"At this point, this is certainly the best terms we can get," she said.