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No sign of inventory of L.A.'s billboards

Two City Council members ask the city attorney to explain why ownership list is not publicly available.

March 25, 2008|David Zahniser | Times Staff Writer

Two members of the Los Angeles City Council called Monday on City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo to explain why an inventory of the city's billboards does not exist, six years after the council first voted to compile one.

Jack Weiss and Wendy Greuel said billboard companies have circumvented the council's desire to create a database, part of a larger effort to determine the number of billboards that have been erected or expanded illegally.

To ensure that the public would have access to the information, the council voted last year to designate certain details about billboards -- size, location and the name of the owner -- as public data that must be made available.

"The council requested that an inventory be created in a timely fashion and it remains unclear to us as to why this inventory has not yet been created an entire year later," wrote Weiss and Greuel in a letter to Delgadillo.

The council first sought to create a list of billboards in 2002, at the same time it approved a ban on new outdoor advertising.

Clear Channel Outdoor and CBS Outdoor sued to stop a city inspection program, reaching a legal settlement with Delgadillo in 2006 that allowed 840 billboards to be upgraded into digital displays.

Deputy City Atty. Steve Blau said those two companies have also threatened to sue if the billboard information, which is currently held by the Department of Building and Safety but not in a usable form, is released. In a letter to Weiss and Greuel, Delgadillo said he thinks the information is public and will argue that in a hearing next month.

But until the matter is resolved by a judge, it would not be "prudent" for the city to hand over the information, Blau added.

"If we did that and we were wrong and this was a trade secret, the city would be sued for huge damages," Blau said.

Lobbyist Steve Afriat, a representative of CBS Outdoor, had no comment. A lobbyist for Clear Channel did not respond to a telephone call.

The exchange between Delgadillo's deputy and council members occurred on the eve of today's scheduled vote by a council committee on a proposal to put two new double-faced billboards next to the 10 Freeway in downtown Los Angeles.

The billboards -- one of which would be digital -- were the product of another lawsuit by Clear Channel Outdoor, which sued over the city's removal of 14 of its billboards from Santa Monica Boulevard.

Delgadillo came under fire earlier this month for attending a party thrown in his honor by Ken Spiker, a former lobbyist for Clear Channel Outdoor. On Monday, Weiss and Greuel also faulted Delgadillo for his handling of a public records request submitted by LA Weekly asking for the billboard inventory. That request is the subject of next month's hearing.

Weiss accused the billboard companies of giving the Department of Building and Safety billboard information in an electronic format that the prevents the public from knowing which company is responsible for a particular billboard. And he criticized Delgadillo for informing the billboard companies of the newspaper's request.

"These companies should be able to take care of themselves without getting phone calls tipping them off from the city attorney's office," Weiss said.

Delgadillo spokesman Nick Velazquez defended Delgadillo's actions, saying it was designed to avoid incurring another lawsuit.

"It's standard practice for this office to notify companies when there is a request for information that they think is proprietary," he said.

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david.zahniser@latimes.com

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