Follow the Money, and You'll Find a Billboard

Small Incisions, Big Differences.jpg

More than $600,000 was spent by billboard lobbyists in 2011. It's a sign of the times.

The humorist Ogden Nash famously rhymed I think I shall never see, / a billboard as lovely as a tree. / In fact unless a billboard falls, / I may never see a tree at all.. But the landscape in Los Angeles isn't the only thing you won't see unless the billboards fall, as efforts to commercialize the city's skyscape, cityscape, and even parkscape continue relentlessly.

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Billboard companies see dollar signs where you might see a baseball backstop or the façade of a high-rise office building. Your unoccupied eyeballs are an asset, to be sold to the most aggressive advertiser.

Think those lap band ads are annoying (and apparently misleading)? Offended by the sexualizing of the skyline (as seen in San Pedro recently)? Well, you haven't seen anything yet.

City council resistance to kid-oriented advertising in city parks, more digital displays, and advertising banners hung from street lights is weakening. (Neighborhoods could apply to the recreation commission to make their playing fields "ad free" under one compromise proposal, shifting the burden to residents to get an exemption.)

The city council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee continues to flip-flop on signage issues as it drafts and redrafts a new ordinance that will likely be taken up by the entire city council in the spring of 2012. The committee's ambivalence is understandable, as activist Dennis Hathaway pointed out recently at Ban Billboard Blight:

Most of the city's billboards are owned by Clear Channel, CBS Outdoor, and Lamar Advertising, which together with two smaller companies spent $595,000 lobbying city officials in the first three quarters of 2011, according to reports filed with the City Ethics Commission. The biggest spender by far was Clear Channel, with a reported $338,000 in lobbying expenditures.

When the re-revised and carefully loopholed sign ordinance gets to the city council, it's clear whose interests will be served. And the city's skyline will be forever changed.

D. J. Waldie, author, historian, and as the New York Times said in 2007, "a gorgeous distiller of architectural and social history," writes about Los Angeles on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.

The image on this page was taken by flickr user Joanna. It is used under a Creative Commons License.

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