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77 digital billboards ordered to go dark by Monday evening

Clear Channel Outdoor and CBS Outdoor lose ruling over a deal they made with the city of L.A. in 2006.

April 12, 2013|By David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times
  • Digital billboards such as this one in Venice are the focus of a ruling that will pull the plug on dozens of signs.
Digital billboards such as this one in Venice are the focus of a ruling that… (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los…)

A judge on Friday gave two outdoor advertising companies three days to pull the plug on 77 digital billboards across Los Angeles, attorneys for the city said.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Terry Green demanded that dozens of signs operated by Clear Channel Outdoor and CBS Outdoor go dark by 5 p.m. on Monday, representatives of both sides said. The signs had been allowed under a much-criticized deal between the two companies and the City Council.

The ruling was hailed by anti-billboard activists, who have argued for years that the digital displays constitute blight and frequently shine into neighbors' homes.

"This is what we've been waiting for now for six years," said Dennis Hathaway, president of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight, who planned to monitor one of the signs near his home in Venice on Monday. "I'm going to be out there personally at 5 o'clock to watch it go dark," he said.

Still unresolved is the fate of as many as 22 other digital signs owned by the two companies, said William Carter, chief deputy to City Atty. Carmen Trutanich. Those will be taken up by the judge Tuesday, he said.

The judge's order covered 80 signs, three of which had permits that expired before the digital technology was installed, Carter said.

Clear Channel spokesman David Grabert said his company, which had 67 of the 80 signs, will take "all legal steps" to restart operation of its electronic billboards. The company will also seek new legislation to allow digital billboards, he said.

"Turning off these signs, even temporarily, hurts the community and the economy of the city of Los Angeles," Grabert added.

The City Council reached an agreement in 2006 with CBS and Clear Channel to end a legal challenge to the city's sign ordinance by allowing up to 840 existing billboards to be converted to electronic formats. That agreement was later challenged by a smaller sign company, Summit Media, which called it a sweetheart deal that gave two big corporations $100 million per year in new revenue while ignoring existing sign laws.

A three-judge panel sided with Summit in December, ordering the revocation of permits for approximately 100 signs, many of which are on the Westside. Since then, CBS and Clear Channel have been trying to preserve the signs while seeking new legislation from the City Council that would allow additional digital billboards to go up in targeted areas.

Timothy Alger, a lawyer for Summit, said he was gratified by the judge's decision but may still seek to have the sign structures themselves demolished. He lambasted city officials for entering into the arrangement in the first place.

"The fact of the matter is, CBS, Clear Channel and the city were all wrongdoers in this thing," he said. "They collaborated to enter into an illegal contract."

Trutanich, who was elected in 2009, issued a statement Friday thanking the judge for providing guidance on the sign litigation. He said he is committed to a "transparent path" for approving digital billboards that "gives all residents and all companies a fair stake in the process."

david.zahniser@latimes.com

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