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L.A. real estate firm to take down five unpermitted supergraphics

March 09, 2009|David Zahniser
  • An iPod image hangs on a Hollywood Boulevard building, one of many supergraphics in the area.
An iPod image hangs on a Hollywood Boulevard building, one of many supergraphics… (Christina House / For The…)

A real estate company that has secured $28 million in taxpayer subsidies from the city of Los Angeles has agreed to take down five unpermitted supergraphics, or vinyl images, from the sides of buildings in Hollywood.

The Times reported last month that CIM Group had failed to follow through on a promise to remove two rooftop billboards from a building at 1800 N. Highland Ave. -- and had in fact, added three unpermitted supergraphics.

The City Council voted in November to allow three supergraphics to go up on CIM's L-shaped building. But after officials discovered that the company had put up six, redevelopment commissioners began calling on the city to stop doing business with CIM unless it removed all unpermitted images.

CIM Group has quickly become a symbol of the city's inability to get a handle on its unpermitted signs, even those placed on buildings whose owners have received millions of dollars in taxpayer support. The multistory images have gone up even as CIM Group seeks permission to erect 11 supergraphic advertisements at Midtown Crossing, a shopping center on Pico Boulevard in Mid-City.

Faced with a growing backlash, CIM Group wrote Council President Eric Garcetti on Feb. 27 agreeing to take down the supergraphics. The company said it believed in "good faith" that the images were legal when they were installed.

"Given the city's position . . . and the fact that we believe it to be of paramount importance to cooperate with you and your colleagues, CIM is removing these three signs as well as two additional signs in Hollywood [on other buildings] in order to avoid any further distraction or potential disagreement created by these signs," the company wrote.

CIM's explanation did not satisfy redevelopment commissioner Madeline Janis.

"Given their testimony in [redevelopment] board meetings, given the agreement that they signed . . . there is no way they could have thought that what they did is legal," she said. "So that is not a credible statement."

In a brief written statement Friday, CIM Group said that it "has been and continues to remove signs" as requested by the city. Redevelopment officials plan to issue notices informing owners of up to 20 Hollywood properties that their supergraphics appear to violate the redevelopment agency's sign rules.

Furthermore, the agency plans to send a letter to CIM, saying it has breached the terms of its sign agreement with the city.

So far, CIM has removed multistory images of the Statue of Liberty from three locations: 7083 Hollywood Blvd., 1800 Highland Ave. and 2005 Highland Ave. The company also took down a fourth Statue of Liberty supergraphic from 7046 Hollywood Blvd. last month, after it was threatened with financial penalties for failing to maintain a historic structure.

The patriotic image was created by Michael McNeilly, a businessman whose advertising company, SkyTag, has filed a lawsuit that seeks to invalidate the city's sign laws. Billboard foes say the SkyTag images are being used as place-holders and will be changed to commercial advertising once the case is concluded.

SkyTag already has asked a judge to block the city from enforcing its sign rules at as many as eight CIM properties.

CIM said previously that it has no involvement in the SkyTag lawsuit.

By noon Sunday, the company had not removed the two rooftop billboards from 1800 Highland, part of its agreement with the city. One of the company's unpermitted supergraphics also remained on the seven-story building.

Although CIM has begun removing its noncommercial Statue of Liberty signs, redevelopment officials said the company still has five unpermitted supergraphics on a building at 6922 Hollywood Blvd. CIM Group's sign woes could prove politically perilous as it seeks new supergraphics at Midtown Crossing, which is already receiving $14.3 million in city funding. Janis, the redevelopment commissioner, said in previous interviews that a single supergraphic on an office building can generate up to $100,000 per month.

On Friday, she said she would not support any additional agreements with CIM Group unless it apologizes and takes down all of its unpermitted signs.

"Unless they make it clear that they were at fault, I personally am not going to be looking positively at any application they make," she said.

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david.zahniser@latimes.com

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