In a dramatic escalation of the war against illegal supergraphics in Los Angeles, authorities have jailed a businessman accused of posting an eight-story movie advertisement on an office building at one of Hollywood's busiest intersections.
Kayvan Setareh, 49, of Pacific Palisades was arrested at his home Friday night and ordered held on $1-million bail. An arrest warrant obtained by Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich accuses Setareh of three misdemeanor city code violations, two of them related to the city sign law, according to William Carter, Trutanich's chief deputy.
The arrest was an unusually aggressive move by Trutanich and comes less than a week after the city attorney filed a separate lawsuit involving more than a dozen other supergraphics scattered across the city. Just days after that lawsuit was filed, workers used bolts and wire to wrap the new ad around the face of a 1928 office building on the northeast corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, a major tourist destination along Hollywood's Walk of Fame. Trutanich's office said Setareh had an "ownership interest" in the building.
"The days of lax and inconsistent enforcement of billboard and outdoor advertising laws in this city are over," Trutanich said in a prepared statement.
Setareh, who is scheduled to be arraigned Monday, could not be reached for comment Saturday. A woman who answered a phone listed in Setareh's name declined to discuss the case but said the arrest had been "a shock to the whole family."
City officials say that unpermitted supergraphics pose a threat to public safety because the huge sheets of vinyl can fall onto cars and pedestrians if they are not attached properly. Still, some law enforcement observers voiced surprise at the large bail amount, saying $1 million is typically used in far more serious cases, such as homicide, rape and kidnapping.
"I'm not saying don't hold him accountable," said Nick Pacheco, a former prosecutor and city councilman who is not affiliated with the case. "But I don't see the relationship between a million-dollar bail and three misdemeanors."
City officials suspect that the unpermitted image -- an advertisement for the film "How to Train Your Dragon" -- was timed to coincide with the 82nd annual Academy Awards ceremony next week, which is staged at the Kodak Theatre down the street.
"When they do red carpet coverage, they're going to have live shots going east down Hollywood Boulevard, so anybody who's got a sign up there is going to get television time," said Brian Curran, vice president of Hollywood Heritage, a preservation group that contacted the city about the sign last week. Curran said the average supergraphic can generate $100,000 a month in advertising revenue.
Neighborhood activists throughout Los Angeles have demanded stricter enforcement of the city's sign ordinance, saying companies have made millions of dollars flouting the law. Last August, the City Council approved a citywide ordinance prohibiting the installation of new digital billboards and supergraphics, which are stretched across the sides of buildings.
Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson questioned whether Trutanich is trying to make an example of Setareh and said she would be surprised if a judge lets such a large bail stand. The bail cited in the warrant was approved by Superior Court Judge Mildred Escobedo, according to court documents.
"There's something more to this that I think is going on," Levenson said. "Either he has prior offenses or he was warned about not doing this."
The city attorney's office said Setareh was warned via letter and e-mail not to post an unpermitted supergraphic on the building. Carter, Trutanich's chief deputy, said the high bail was warranted because of public safety issues surrounding the case.
The supergraphic covers many windows, making it difficult for firefighters to enter during an emergency. Also, because the sign lacks permits, building inspectors have not ensured that it is safely attached to the building, Carter said.
"You have a supergraphic that weighs hundreds, if not thousands of pounds. . . . If it were not installed correctly, it could fall and injure or kill people on a highly congested corner where hundreds of thousands of people walk every day," he said.
The city attorney's investigation began on Feb. 5, the day neighborhood activists sent city officials a copy of a brochure citing the building as an ad space that could be seen during the Academy Awards.
Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti, who represents part of Hollywood, said he forwarded the brochure to the city's lawyers. He said a cease-and-desist letter went to Setareh urging him not to put up an unpermitted sign.
"Somebody decided the money was worth it," Garcetti said.
Staff writer Hector Becerra contributed to this report.