Commission rejected granting amnesty to unpermitted signs
On Oct. 22, the Los Angeles Planning Commission recommended making the city’s ordinance regulating billboards and digital signs more stringent. The commission rejected granting amnesty to unpermitted signs and called for new billboards to only be allowed in special sign districts.
Since 2009, the Los Angeles City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) committee has asked the planning commission to consider revisions to the city’s sign ordinance, which was first enacted in 2002 and amended in 2008. The commission was tasked with recommending whether more than 900 billboards that were erected or altered without city permits should be granted amnesty. The recommendations will be forwarded to the PLUM committee to be reviewed at a date to be announced, and ultimately to the full city council.
The commission recommended that new billboards be allowed only in sign districts, and that for every square foot of new billboard space allowed, five square feet of billboard space be taken down. For digital billboards, the
recommended ratio is ten-to-one.
A previous proposal by the PLUM Committee called for a four-to-one takedown ratio. The takedown ratios would apply only to billboards that were erected or altered with proper permits, so companies could not take down unpermitted signs and attempt to use that billboard space to put up new billboards.
The commission also rejected a proposal for a conditional use permitting process for billboards to be erected outside of sign districts. A decision on a proposal by Councilman Paul Krekorian, 2nd District, to allow digital billboards to be erected on city property was postponed.
The recommendations were praised by billboard opponents, including Dennis Hathaway, resident of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight.
“It think overall, it was very good,” Hathaway said. “I think the planning commission gave a very emphatic ‘no’ on billboard amnesty and came up with a much better takedown ratio. That is significant because it has the potential to take down a lot of blight.”
Jack Humphreville, a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, said he is optimistic about the recommendations, but uncertain about whether the city council will follow through.
“It seemed to be pretty good. My issue is I just don’t trust the guys downtown, particularly the PLUM Committee,” Humphreville said. “When there is so much money floating around, there are all kinds of shenanigans that can go on.”
Humphreville said an independent entity is necessary to review billboard regulations and ensure companies are adhering to the law. He said otherwise, billboard companies will continue to operate without fear of city reprisal.
Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer believes the city can require un-permitted billboards to be taken down, said Rob Wilcox, Feuer’s director of community engagement and outreach. In a letter to the PLUM Commission, Feuer stated that his office remains ready to “aggressively” enforce the law regarding billboards.
City leaders representing the Hollywood and Wilshire areas stated they will continue to monitor the situation.
“I’m aware of the consequences of the lack of clarity of outdoor sign advertising,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, 13th District. “I am monitoring this issue closely, and clearly there is more research, deliberation and public testimony to hear on this topic before the city adopts an ordinance.”
Councilman David Ryu, 4th District, said he remains opposed to allowing un-permitted billboards to remain.
“Legalizing signs without permits is the wrong approach for our city,” Ryu added. “I applaud the planning commission’s recent decision to protect our residential neighborhoods by keeping signs only in sign districts.”
Stacy Miller, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Outdoor Advertising Coalition, said coalition members are reviewing the recommendations and welcome clarity with regulations. The coalition is made up of Clear Channel Outdoor, Outfront Media (formerly CBS Outdoor) and Lamar Advertising, which collectively own 95 percent of billboards in Los Angeles, she said.
“We have been in this holding pattern. What we are looking at is a process,” Miller said. “The coalition is not in support of illegal billboards, period. What we are in favor of is a process by which we can work with the city to prove they were lawfully erected and to get permits. We are going to be advocating for common sense regulations. If they make anything too onerous, neither side is going to win.”