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Koreatown billboard district is proposed

L.A. councilman's plan to allow signs along a 17-block area has some activists concerned.

April 18, 2008|David Zahniser | Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles city councilman has proposed the creation of a new billboard district in Koreatown, one that would run 17 blocks from east to west and take in major corridors such as Wilshire and Olympic boulevards.

With a separate downtown billboard district scheduled for a vote next week, the proposal by Councilman Herb Wesson has alarmed anti-billboard activists. They said the city should not allow any more outdoor signs until it can show that it is cracking down on the illegal ones.

One foe warned that a billboard district would force Koreatown residents to keep their blinds closed at night to avoid the glare, especially if some of the signs display electronic images.

"All the side streets are heavily residential," said Dennis Hathaway, a board member with the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight. "If you turn those streets into something like the Ginza [in Tokyo] or Times Square, people in their apartments and houses are going to be experiencing all that light and color."

Wesson argued that a sign district would be a good fit for Koreatown, which has a hopping bar scene and a number of nighttime attractions, such as the Wiltern Theater. With new multistory residential projects going up on and around Wilshire, those who move into the neighborhood won't be surprised to see a greater number of outdoor signs, Wesson said.

"In the event that you do have billboards there, if someone buys a condo or rents an apartment that we build there, they'll know that going in," he said.

The council banned new billboards in 2002 in an attempt to reduce visual blight from city streets. That law created a provision that allowed new signs to go up in entertainment districts and areas with large numbers of pedestrians. At the time, proponents of the ban said the new districts should be used as leverage to persuade advertising companies to remove billboards from other, quieter streets.

Wesson's proposal would join three other sign districts in Los Angeles. Hollywood's sign district takes in eight major corridors, including Hollywood, Santa Monica and Sunset boulevards. Downtown Los Angeles has special zoning that allows billboards around Staples Center and the Nokia Theater. And the council is expected to give final approval next week to a one-block billboard district next to the 10 Freeway.

The city's politicians and business interests have stepped up their interest in outdoor advertising in recent months, looking for ways of bringing new signs to new locations.

Last month, Councilman Ed Reyes proposed a sign district on the west side of the 110 Freeway in downtown Los Angeles, on such streets as Beaudry, Boylston, 1st, 2nd and 3rd.

Wesson, whose district includes parts of Koreatown, also is working with a developer to create eight to 10 vinyl signs at Midtown Crossing, a new shopping center between Pico, San Vicente and Venice boulevards. And a private developer, Astani Enterprises, is seeking to establish a second district near Staples Center that would allow at least one 14-story animated sign.

The Koreatown plan is easily the largest of the proposed districts, taking in stretches of Normandie, Vermont and Western avenues.

Wesson's proposal calls on the planning department to prepare the maps and documents necessary to create a sign district bounded by 6th Street on the north, Olympic Boulevard on the south, Shatto Place on the east and St. Andrews Place on the west.

Planning Commission President Jane Usher, who voted against the billboard district planned next to the 10 Freeway, had no position on the Koreatown proposal. But she suggested that city officials exclude Country Club Heights, a residential neighborhood on the western edge of the proposed district. "It seems to me that the boundaries bear looking at, and I think the council office will agree," said Usher, an appointee of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Wesson said the boundaries of the proposed district could change as the planning department spends the next year processing his request. But he argued that, if done right, Koreatown could derive an economic boost from a billboard district.

"It brings a pop and flash to a certain area," he said.

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david.zahniser@latimes.com

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