Citizen Action Needed On Billboards In L.A.

Blank billboard.

By Patrick Frank, Venice Resident

Now is the time for those concerned about billboard blight to step and be heard. The City Planning Commission (CPC) will hear from the Planning and Land Use Management committee (PLUM) about a proposed revision of the L.A. Citywide Sign Ordinance at its pubic meeting on Oct. 22, so this is a unique opportunity for citizens and activists who care about the proliferation of commercial speech on billboards to weigh in.

The sign ordinance is extremely complex, but four areas of concern can be isolated for clear comment:

(1) Illegal and unpermitted billboards. There are more than 900 such structures in the city, and PLUM has submitted a proposal that includes amnesty for all of them. The City Attorney has offered to sort out this regulatory mess and issue takedown orders where appropriate; we need to encourage the CPC and the City Council to refuse amnesty and rely on the City Attorney.

(2) Sign districts (areas of heavy commercial traffic such as Sunset Strip, L.A. Live, etc). Fourteen new sign districts have been proposed but not acted on since the last review of the sign ordinance in 2009. PLUM is proposing that all of those districts be “grandfathered” into the new sign ordinance, without weighing community input or environmental impacts. We need to urge the CPC to resist the temptation to grandfather; rather, the CPC needs to rely on existing sign district certification procedures.

(3) Digital signs outside sign districts. The PLUM proposal is to use the relatively low hurdle of the Conditional Use Permit to allow such signs outside sign districts. However, digital signs outside sign districts are the very definition of visual blight and need to be disallowed entirely.

(4) Takedown ratios. New billboards have been forbidden in L.A. since 2002, believe it or not. Yet they have proliferated, due to lack of regulatory zeal on the part of the city, and outright law-breaking by sign companies (see #1 above). For every new square foot of new digital billboards in sign districts, we need the sign companies to take down 8 square feet of traditional billboards elsewhere. For new traditional billboards, a takedown ratio of 4:1 will begin to restore some balance.

It can seem as though the complexity of this legislation is purposely crafted to deter citizen input. But we need to resist the temptation to fall into silence. The sign companies have powerful lobbyists and they will be throwing everything they have at this meeting, and at later steps of the process leading up to City Council action in the future. To take action now, go to the meeting and speak on one or more of the above points. Or send an e-mail to [email protected] with the subject heading CPC-2015-3059-CA. Ask that your message be entered into the record.

For more information on the issue in general, go to