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Legislation would allow digital billboards next to L.A.'s proposed NFL stadium

State Sen. Alex Padilla's bill would permit ads for beer and gambling and let signs be posted up to 1,000 feet from venues. Opponents say bill gives special treatment to AEG owner Philip Anschutz.

April 13, 2013|By Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times
  • State Sen. Alex Padilla says taxpayers don’t want to pay for new professional sports venues, “so … you have to be creative in finances."
State Sen. Alex Padilla says taxpayers don’t want to pay for new professional… (Los Angeles Times )

SACRAMENTO — An influential state senator has a plan to allow electronic billboard ads that are currently banned by state law — including pitches for beer and gambling — next to a proposed NFL stadium in Los Angeles.

The proposal, approved by a legislative committee, has outraged activists who oppose the proliferation of electronic billboards. They say lawmakers intend the measure as special treatment for Philip Anschutz, the Denver billionaire who wants to build the stadium in downtown Los Angeles.

Drafted by state Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), the plan would lift a requirement that digital billboards beside freeways near stadiums advertise only products and services provided in the stadium, such as event tickets, soft drinks and other concession items.

It would allow the billboards to advertise any product with which the stadium operator has a sponsorship agreement, which could include such things as cars, television sets and insurance. The measure also would permit ads for beer and casinos.

And although existing California law requires billboards to be on sports arena property, Padilla's bill would allow them up to 1,000 feet away from the possible new stadium, Farmers Field, and at nearby freeway offramps.

The senator said taxpayers don't want to pay for new professional sports venues, "so … you have to be creative in finances. I think it's appropriate to make some allowances, with checks and balances for local governments."

Cities would be able to adopt ordinances controlling the location and operation of the billboards under his proposal.

The measure is opposed by groups including the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight, which says it could lead to a distracting "sea of advertising" for motorists passing through downtown Los Angeles. The group also calls the proposal a giveaway to Anschutz Entertainment Group.

"This is clearly aimed toward Farmers Field and allowing AEG to get more revenue," said coalition President Dennis Hathaway.

The measure has drawn fire as well from a billboard industry group, which said the bill puts lawmakers and the governor "in a position of picking winners and losers," unfairly exempting "certain favored entities" from state laws.

"All we ask is that we all play by the same rules," wrote Mark Kudler, president of the California State Outdoor Advertising Assn., in a letter to state senators.

Padilla was also the author of legislation in 2011 that gave the Anschutz stadium project a special expedited process for environmental review. His current bill would apply to any professional sports facility built on public property with at least 15,000 seats, and the senator said it could help up to 14 arenas in various parts of the state.

When the Senate Transportation Committee met last week, AEG was the only company with a representative there to testify in favor of the bill, SB 31.

AEG and Farmers Insurance, the firm with naming rights to the stadium, have contributed more than $10,000 to Padilla's political committees over the last four years.

The bill's exemption to state law is needed to help make modern sports stadium projects pencil out financially, said Ted Fikre, chief legal and development officer for AEG.

"It is critical to have signage visible from the freeway, not only to make the arena visible but also to advertise the sponsors who are a key part of the business plan," Fikre told the Senate panel.

The committee voted to approve the bill 8-0 and send it to the Senate Appropriations Committee. State Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), a leading environmentalist in the Legislature, abstained from voting.

"Creating an exception like that contained in SB 31 could open to the door to more exemptions in the future," Pavley said.

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