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City Council votes to prohibit new digital billboards and supergraphics throughout Los Angeles

The emergency ordinance was passed out of fears that a federal judge would block enforcement of an existing temporary ban.

August 08, 2009|David Zahniser

The Los Angeles City Council voted Friday for an emergency measure that would prohibit new digital billboards, multistory supergraphics and certain signs that face freeways from being installed throughout the city.

The ordinance was unanimously approved by the council out of fears that a federal judge could issue an injunction later this month blocking the city from enforcing an existing temporary ban on outdoor signs.

The council has been passing temporary bans to give it time to rewrite its sign laws in a way that can withstand a legal challenge.

To ensure that today's measure received enough votes for immediate passage, Councilman Bill Rosendahl returned early from a medical leave to participate in the discussion. "I'm here to give the 12th vote to move this ordinance," said Rosendahl, who is recovering from hernia surgery.

Councilwoman Jan Perry voted for the measure, even though she criticized the council for not following the typical process for passing such a law. "We're not using the tools we have," she said.

Council members have said they fear that an adverse ruling would draw a flood of applications for new digital signs and supergraphics, which can cover one or more sides of a single building.

Dennis Hathaway, president of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight, praised council members for seeking to shore up the sign-ban law but criticized them for failing to pass a new sign law which was forwarded from the Los Angeles Department of City Planning five months ago. A vote was expected next month.

"I think they were fiddling and suddenly they looked around and realized that Rome had caught fire," he said.

Business leaders criticized the new law, saying it violated efforts by real estate interests to work cooperatively with neighborhoods.

City Hall lobbyist Sheri Bonstelle, whose law firm represents a company that has been fighting to keep a supergraphic on the side of the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, told the council that the new ban would invite more lawsuits.

"You're not creating the solution that you desire," she said.

The council took its action in response to a lawsuit filed by Liberty Media Group, which has filed a challenge to the city's latest sign moratorium. In a filing prepared by the Mayer Brown law firm, the company said city officials had not followed the proper state procedures needed to extend such temporary bans.

Liberty also said the city allowed high-profile projects in Hollywood to receive exceptions to the sign moratorium. Eight of those signs are on the proposed W Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard at Vine Street, the company alleged.

City officials said the permit process for those signs began before the moratorium.

One of those signs, visible from the 101 Freeway on the W Hotel's rooftop, displays an advertisement for the Los Angeles Times.

That fact drew fire from John Walsh, a frequent critic of the council and The Times, who told the council that such signs present a conflict of interest for the newspaper, which has been covering the billboard saga.

Nancy Sullivan, a spokeswoman for The Times, said no such conflict exists.

"The business and editorial sides of the Los Angeles Times operate independently, a separation of church and state, to ensure our ability to fairly report on issues that may relate to the company's business endeavors," Sullivan said in a statement.

"With regard to The Times' ads in question, we have contracted in good faith with outdoor advertising companies that the media space is permitted and in compliance with applicable guidelines."

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david.zahniser@latimes.com

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