The eight-story supergraphic went up last week at Hollywood Boulevard… (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles…)
After spending three days in jail, a Pacific Palisades businessman agreed Monday to take down an eight-story supergraphic advertisement that had been wrapped around a prominent Hollywood office building just in time to be captured by cameras at next Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony down the street.
The legal agreement, crafted by Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich just as building owner Kayvan Setareh was scheduled to be arraigned in court, drew praise from City Council members, who said they had been looking for stronger action on illegal supergraphics.
"We've got somebody who's fighting for the community, and it seems to have produced results," said Council President Eric Garcetti, who represents part of Hollywood.
Setareh's arrest was a new tactic in Trutanich's expanding crackdown on illegal billboards and brightly lighted signs, considered by some to be a form of urban blight. Setareh, 49, agreed to remove the sign in exchange for having his bail reduced from $1 million to $100,000. He did not admit wrongdoing and still faces charges of violating the city's ban on new supergraphics, vinyl images draped across the side of a building.
Setareh's arraignment on three misdemeanor counts was postponed to March 30. His lawyer, Andrew M. Stein, criticized the judge who approved the original bail amount, a figure more often used in cases of violent crime. He also said the sign did not pose a hazard, as prosecutors alleged.
"I don't think my client's sign endangered the public any more than the other signs that have been put up and down Sunset Boulevard over the last 10 years -- permitted or unpermitted," he said.
Prosecutors disagree, saying that such a large sign could fall on motorists and pedestrians if it was not properly installed and reviewed by city inspectors.
They also said they suspected that the advertisement, for the movie "How to Train Your Dragon," was installed to take advantage of the Oscar ceremony, which is staged at the nearby Kodak Theater. Cameras stationed on the red carpet were expected to capture the building in the background, exposing the image to millions of television viewers.
Setareh faces a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail if found guilty of violating the ban on new supergraphics. That fine is small, however, compared with the $100,000 that can be generated each month from a multistory supergraphic.
A promotional booklet forwarded to city prosecutors last month appeared to have marketed the building to advertisers, asking them to pay up to $216,000 to place digital advertisements on the building over a four-week period leading up to Sunday's Academy Awards. The brochure had no date or contact information and no digital signs were installed on the building.
Instead, the eight-story supergraphic went up last week, covering three sides of the building at the northeast corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue.
This was not the first time that Setareh had become a target for city inspectors. As early as 2001, they filed paperwork ordering him to remove an unpermitted supergraphic from his property on Hollywood Boulevard.
Inspectors went to the building again in January 2007 and found an unpermitted supergraphic measuring 224 feet by 40 feet stretched across the building's north, west and south walls, according to records obtained from the Department of Building and Safety.
The sign was taken down 10 days later. But another went up on the same building in March 2007, according to a timeline created by building inspectors. After the city demanded its removal, the sign went down in June 2007. It was replaced by a third supergraphic in August that stayed for a year, according to records.
Setareh also drew the attention of inspectors at a building he owns at 5858 Hollywood Boulevard. At that location, city prosecutors pressed Setareh to remove four unpermitted supergraphics between November 2006 and July 2007, according to documents.
Neighborhood activists have long complained that outdoor advertising companies violate the city's sign laws with impunity, reaping millions of dollars in revenue in the process.
Dennis Hathaway, president of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight, described Monday's proceedings as "the dawn of a new day."
Prosecutors said they repeatedly urged Setareh not to put up the latest supergraphic. Stein said he had no evidence that his client had received such a warning.
Stein said he had not determined whether the newest sign violated the law but predicted he would probably wage a defense rooted in the right to free speech. He also said that Judge Mildred Escobedo, who approved Trutanich's arrest warrant, should be "ashamed of herself" for permitting such a large bail amount.