Alarmed at the possibility that its temporary ban on new outdoor advertising could be suspended or struck down in court, the Los Angeles City Council decided Wednesday to seek an emergency ordinance to prevent new digital billboards, supergraphics or certain other outdoor signs from going up.
The council unanimously scheduled the vote on the new law for Friday.
The decision, which followed a lengthy meeting with the city's lawyers behind closed doors, was a dramatic change in direction for the council.
Over the last year, the council has been attempting to come up with new billboard rules that can withstand a legal challenge -- and passing temporary sign bans to buy it more time to do so.
The most recent moratorium is now the subject of a legal challenge from Liberty Media Group, which has a hearing before a federal judge on Aug. 17. If it is struck down while the council is on an upcoming summer recess, billboard companies could flood the city with applications for new signs, Councilman Ed Reyes said.
"To prevent our neighborhoods from being wallpapered, if you will, we have to put in a permanent ordinance," he said.
The move surprised outdoor advertising foe Dennis Hathaway, president of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight, who has pushed for more restrictions on digital billboards and supergraphics, which can cover the side of a building. Still, Hathaway acknowledged that without a moratorium in place, advertising companies could quickly install scores of additional digital billboards -- a situation that would "hit the fan with the public."
The council has repeatedly delayed its effort to develop new rules for regulating outdoor advertising. Councilman Richard Alarcon called last month for a law that would allow each council member to orchestrate sign swaps, with some billboards coming down in exchange for the installation of new digital signs.
The council also had been reviewing a proposed ordinance from the Planning Commission that would ban digital billboards on a citywide basis but allow them in as many as 21 areas. Business groups criticized the proposal, saying it would hamper development.
Reyes said the council would give the city attorney emergency instructions to ensure that the law goes into effect right away. "This is a ban," he added. "There is no mincing words here."