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West L.A. planning panel rules against 3 digital billboards

The decision on two Westwood Boulevard signs and one on Santa Monica Boulevard is a victory for homeowner associations and an activist group.

February 19, 2010|By Maeve Reston

Digital billboard opponents won a victory Wednesday when an area planning commission ruled that Los Angeles city officials erred when they issued permits allowing three traditional signs to be converted to an electronic format.

Homeowner groups and the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight joined forces more than a year ago to challenge two signs on Westwood Boulevard and a third on West Santa Monica Boulevard.

They argued that the modifications to the Westwood Boulevard signs -- a result of a legal settlement between the city and CBS Outdoor and Clear Channel Outdoor -- violated local zoning plans protecting neighborhood character in one instance and a pedestrian district in another. The regulations prohibited signs that move, flash or have the appearance of movement.

Laura Brill, an attorney for Clear Channel Outdoor and CBS Outdoor, said at Wednesday's hearing that those digital billboards do not have the appearance of movement because the images change only every eight seconds. But the West Los Angeles Area Planning Commission disagreed.

Opponents of the sign on Santa Monica Boulevard argued that it was improperly placed on a scenic highway. Several commissioners said city officials failed to consider the community plan when they issued the permit.

"Clear Channel and CBS should shut those billboards off, and if they don't do it voluntarily, then the city should take action to force them to do it," said Dennis Hathaway, president of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight.

The commission's decision cannot be appealed through the city's process, but the companies could challenge it in court.

Brill said Clear Channel, which owns two of the signs, could not comment on ongoing litigation. A spokesperson for CBS said the company believes that its billboard at 1333 S. Westwood Blvd. "meets all applicable state and city requirements, and the planning boards acted in error. We expect this error to be corrected as the matter progresses."

The three signs are among 92 digital billboards altered after the 2006 legal settlement that allowed CBS Outdoor and Clear Channel Outdoor to modernize 840 signs in exchange for removing some of their inventory. In November, an L.A. County Superior Court judge ruled the settlement illegal, but the billboard companies have appealed.

City Councilman Paul Koretz, who represents most of the Westside, called the decision against the billboard companies an "encouraging" sign. "Hopefully at some point we'll be able to get rid of the blight that these billboards bring to the entire city," he said.

maeve.reston@latimes.com

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