The Los Angeles City Council on Friday issued a stinging rebuke of City Atty. Carmen Trutanich, voting unanimously to reject his legal advice and back six controversial sign permits at the L.A. Live entertainment district downtown.
Trutanich two weeks ago warned building officials, Councilwoman Jan Perry and representatives of L.A. Live's owner, Anschutz Entertainment Group, that they could face prosecution if sign permits for the company's new movie theater were issued, according to Perry and AEG. Trutanich said the large wall signs violated the city's new ban on outdoor ads.
During a two-hour council hearing, five members scolded the city attorney for making the threats, although he did not attend the meeting. Several said Trutanich's actions also showed a disregard for the council's intent when it passed the sign ban in August to exempt previously approved special signage rights at L.A. Live.
Councilman Ed Reyes said lawyers in the city attorney's leadership team seemed to "want to be the ones creating policy despite the wishes of their bosses. . . . The city attorney advises the council, but now we have to talk about trust, and that, I believe, has been severely shaken."
With backing from the council and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Department of Building and Safety General Manager Raymond Chan said he planned to issue the permits Friday.
"I don't think anyone is going to jail," said Jeff Carr, the mayor's chief of staff.
The action comes just days after AEG President and Chief Executive Tim Leiweke accused Trutanich of trying to "bully" the company by blocking signs for its Regal Cinemas before the grand opening Tuesday. Leiweke had said his company would be forced to take legal action against the city if the permits were blocked, saying it would put hundreds of millions of dollars worth of sponsorship agreements at risk.
"I applaud them on honoring agreements, because we can still do business in L.A.," Leiweke said afterward.
AEG plans to put up four big movie posters -- including at least one for the Michael Jackson documentary "This Is It," which premieres Tuesday -- and signs for L.A. Live sponsors Coca Cola and Toyota.
Chan and a representative of the city Planning Department testified that the city approved plans for the signs in 2006, and that L.A. Live was granted broad signage rights in a general agreement in 2001.
However, Trutanich's chief deputy, William W. Carter, told the council that granting the permits to AEG could "unravel" the new sign ordinance, which prohibits all digital signs, supergraphics and freeway-facing billboards. Outdoor advertising companies had successfully challenged previous laws because the council granted similar exemptions.
Carter urged the council to instead ask U.S. District Judge Audrey B. Collins for clarification. Collins in September upheld the city's new outdoor advertising ordinance.
The City Hall squabble is the latest clash between the new city attorney and AEG, which owns L.A. Live and Staples Center and has been a major supporter of Villaraigosa. Trutanich had already been quarreling with AEG over the expenses incurred by the city during the Michael Jackson memorial at Staples Center.
AEG is developing the $2.5-billion L.A. Live complex downtown, which includes the Nokia Theatre, the Regal Cinemas and a convention center hotel.