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Former L.A. City Councilman Richard Alarcon:…

Digital Billboards Could Be History, Court Suggests

Paul Krekorian, who has a special interest in the issue, weighs in.

A member of California's 2nd District Court of Appeal today signaled the court's support for revoking a settlement agreement between the city and Clear Channel Outdoor and CBS Outdoor that allowed the firms to install about 100 highly lucrative digital billboards around the city.

Calling them "tentative thoughts," Associate Justice Laurence Rubin signaled before oral arguments that his three-judge panel would find the agreement "void for all purposes," according to the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office.

Rubin said his tentative inclination was to send the case back to the lower court with an instruction to revoke the 100 or so digital sign permits.

City Councilman Paul Krekorian, chairman of the city’s Budget and Finance Committee, and representing District 2, has long worked to restrict billboards citywide. He released the following statement:

Today's tentative ruling, if it is finalized by the Court, will be a big step forward in achieving one of the City's primary goals: a significant reduction in the number of billboards citywide. Now is exactly the time to press forward and adopt a comprehensive policy to manage outdoor advertising that will achieve the three goals we set out in our motion last week -- reduction in the number of signs, revenues to assist communities that have suffered their impacts, and resolution once and for all of this long-simmering battle over past failures in policy making.

Achieving a positive solution that benefits all citizens of Los Angeles in this and future generations will be possible only if the Council continues to pursue those three goals in the most inclusive way possible, and that is exactly the kind of public dialogue that I hope our motion will produce. 

The case dates back to 2006, when then-City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo cut a special agreement with Clear Channel and CBS to end a previous lawsuit over the city's billboard laws. The settlement gave the two companies permission to obtain permits for 420 digital signs each in exchange for taking down other static billboards.

The agreement drew a legal challenge from Summit Media, which was not part of the deal.

A Superior Court judge ruled in 2009 that the settlement was illegal and called it "poison."  That led the city to stop issuing digital sign permits to the two billboard companies, but not before they were able to put up about 100 digital signs, mostly on the city's Westside.

Meanwhile, the City Council two weeks ago, at the urging of Clear Channel and CBS Outdoor, moved to accelerate a new agreement and draft regulations on digital signs aimed at resolving Summit's lawsuit, potentially allowing the companies to keep their 100 digital billboards and giving other firms a pathway to put up digital signs of their own.

Krekorian, who co-sponsored the motion, has said it is his intention to reduce the overall number of billboards.

It is unclear what effect the judge's "tentative thoughts" will have on the effort to draft new digital sign legislation.

Special Assistant City Attorney Jane Usher, who has represented the city in the lawsuit, said, "tentative rulings are just that, tentative. We would all be well served by waiting to see what the panel's written decision says."

The court is expected to issue its written decision within 90 days.

"We are disappointed in the court's tentative ruling, but we hope our oral arguments clarified key points to be considered in the final opinion," said Jim Cullinan, vice president of communications for Clear Channel Outdoor. "This tentative ruling does highlight the real need for a comprehensive legislative solution which is in the best interests of the city, community and the industry."

A representative for CBS Outdoor could not be immediately reached for comment.

City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, a longtime critic of digital billboards, said he was "delighted" by the tentative ruling, characterizing it as a step in the right direction toward getting a revenue stream for what he called "polluting and harassing" signs.

Dennis Hathaway October 31, 2012 at 12:57 AM
Councilman Krekorian's statement makes no sense. He says the court's ruling, if finalized, will result in a significant reduction in billboards, but in fact it only concerns conversions of already existing billboards to digital. And of approximately 9,000 billboard faces city wide, only 100 have currently been converted and would be affected if the court orders those permits voided. Secondly, the motion written by a Clear Channel lobbyist and introduced two weeks ago by Krekorian and Councilman Ed Reyes was an obvious attempt to save those 100 digital billboards from an adverse court ruling through a new agreement that would have to grant other billboard companies the right to convert some of their billboards to digital. While there was discussion of taking down an unspecified number of existing billboards in exchange for this right, the end result would certainly be more digital billboards on streets like Ventura Blvd. in Studio City and other commercial areas of the San Fernando Valley, in addition to the preservation of the digital billboards on the city's westside that have generated so many complaints. Dennis Hathaway President, Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight www.banbillboardblight.org
Bill Brinton October 31, 2012 at 01:08 PM
Beauty is good for business. Billboard blight is not. It should be no surprise that fours states have no billboards at all - Hawaii, Alaska, Maine, and Vermont. The billboard cartel works 24/7 to line their pockets by polluting the roadways with eyesore after eyesore after eyesore. Digital billboards with intermittent changing messages on an order of 10,000 times per day are far worse, and the advertisers get little to no bang for the buck because the messages of these distracting signs can rarely be comprehended along busy roads. Advertisers that intentionally place ads that flash in 8-second rotations to passing motorists should carefully examine their liability for death or serious injury if the advertising ever works as intended and draws the attention of the motorist away from the driving task. What other devices along the roadside are desinged to attract and hold a motorist's attention for 5 seconds or longer, much less to hawk a product or sell a service at some location far away. None. Property values do not increase among adjoining or nearby properties, they decrease. It makes no sense (other than money for the billboard cartel and their captive elected officials) to allow these towers of blight line the roadways. - Bill Brinton
Bob Peppermuller October 31, 2012 at 09:02 PM
If they ALL went went away how refreshing that would be.
Nora Doyle November 01, 2012 at 08:59 PM
I was glad to read this clarification because, after reading the recent article in the LA Times about this, I was confused about Paul Krekorian's response cited in The Patch. There are so many things that are disturbing about this, probably the worst being that our councilman is submitting motions that have been written by corporate lobbyists. It's pretty much a guarantee that if this motion passes (and I think it may have) the end result will not be in the best interests of the residents of Los Angeles. Billboard companies are very big campaign donors, and it's brazenly clear that this is what they get for their money. I'm so disappointed in Paul Krekorian.
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