Selling Eyeballs: 'Let's Not Rule Out Any Options'

Post No Bills

Brian Currey, representing the mayor's office, told the the city council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee on Monday (12/5) that no option should be ruled out in selling you and your neighbors to billboard advertisers.

Access to your eyeballs is a source of revenue, some of which could come to the city. (KCET's SoCal Connected has more of the story here.)

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Currey's appeal to commodify the city's skyline came as part of the committee's review of the city's out-dated and much abused sign ordinance. The committee members hardly needed Currey's prompting, however, and directed the city attorney to prepare a final draft of a revised ordinance for the committee's approval.

Adoption, which should come in the first half of 2012, requires action by the entire city council. (You can read the current draft of the sign ordinance here.)

Dennis Hathaway, who blogs at Ban Billboard Blight believes that the latest draft of the sign ordinance is better than earlier ones, except that it would, he notes:

▪ Allow advertising in parks and around public facilities located in a current or future "sign district." (The committee's apparent intention is to permit 16 of these special districts, very few of which have been formally established. The Los Angeles Times wondered in a recent editorial if 16 sign districts - including the city zoo - aren't too many and thought advertising in parks to be a bad idea.)

▪ Allow developers to put up two square feet of billboard advertising in a "sign district" for every square foot of billboard removed elsewhere, if the developer offsets the impact of more signage by providing trees and other street-level amenities. (Hathaway sees this as a step back from the city's original goal of reducing the scale and visual impact of billboards.)

▪ Offer a 20 percent size increase "adjustment" for billboards in violation of the current ordinance. (In effect, companies could receive a size bonus as a sop for having to get a city permit for what is now an unpermitted or out-of-compliance billboard.)

▪ Allow an unlimited amount of "off-site" signage at shopping centers and entertainment complexes, as long as the billboards can't be seen from the street, sidewalk, or adjacent properties. ("Off-site" billboards advertise companies not actually located at the center.)

Better because of community opposition - but still flawed because of its loopholes - the sign ordinance will face a new challenge when it comes before the city council. Some council members don't want city planners making a politically important decision - important because relationships with developers are the only way to get ahead politically in Los Angeles.

Your eyeballs are up for bid, not just because Los Angeles is broke or parks lack funding, but because outdoor advertising is a guaranteed revenue stream for property developers (just ask AEG) and because the system at city hall always puts council members' political ambition ahead of the common good.

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 Kevin Wong. It is used under a Creative Commons License.

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