Segment | Billboard Confidential

Billboard Confidential - Part 2

In the second part of our series, we take a look at the issue of digital billboards. In what some call a catastrophe, the city council approved the installation of 877 digital billboards — which will nearly double the amount of these electronic signs nationwide. We question why leaders approved this deal and why it’s good for Los Angeles. We also take a look at the environmental impacts of turning Los Angeles into a digital city.


RESOURCES:

Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight
Scenic America
City of L.A. Department of Building and Safety
City of L.A.
Vince Gonzales on AirTalk with Larry Mantle
Vince Gonzales on Which Way, L.A.?

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I very narrowly missed a potentially disastrous accident at the 10/110 interchange when I was distracted by the electronic billboards at the Convention Center. And in flying into LA one night, I was horrified to see out the window a series of massive, blinding TV-screen billboards lining a freeway that were displaying live-action footage. If California is so concerned, and rightly so, about people using their cell phones while driving, what dim-bulb mentality permits drivers to watch television on the road? The members of the LA City Council will have a lot to answer for if they allow this hazardous practice to continue. And we all know what drives the system. Call it what you will, but I call it bribery.

I hear so many reports about the people who are upset about the evolution of advertising space - but I haven't seen or heard from the proponents...
What about all of the materials that are conserved by not constantly having to paint and repaint these things? To me it would seem that the wasted materials are probably way more devistating to the environment than a little bit of light...
With everybody talking 'green', why isn't this being mentioned?
Also, in the current state of our economy - I feel like it's a good thing that somebody has figured out a better way to generate revenue with 'space'. Since the billboards can change faces - you can sell more ad time than the stagnant billboards of the past. I think it's wonderful that people have figured out a way to use space this way.
I agree that advertising can be annoying - but billboards are a fact of modern day life, one which is even easier to deal with than so many of the other facts of life that distract us everyday...
I don't believe this practice is any more hazardous than painting building with bright colors, installing art pieces beside roadways, or even having fancy cars.
I think that sometimes, people are just 'technophobic'.

re: POSITIVE rely on billboards VERSUS a much worse “SKY TRASH”

I am very concerned about the looks of our city. However, these billboards, to me, are rather artistic. They add lots of brilliant colors to our city (in commercial areas; they are inappropriate in residential areas for many reasons).

Having said that, why is there no outcry for a FAR worse eye sore that is proliferating our city that I call "sky trash": awful utilities lines all over the place that make our city look third world (there are NUMBEROUS examples of this blight, just look at the corner of olympic and bundy as one of MANY examples). BUT, HERE IS THE POINT OF THIS COMMENT: At the same time these electronic billboards (which seem rather "artful" to me) are going up, Time Warner (or some cable company), without any regard to aesthetics, is adding MORE THICK BLACK "SKY TRASH" (otherwise known as cables about 1-2 inches thick) just dangling all over our city, AND large metal boxes (about the size of refrigerators) all over our sidewalks. WHERE IS THE OUTRAGE ABOUT THE INCREASE IN THIS VASTLY MORE GROTESQUE MESS IN OUR SKYS AND SIDEWALKS? There is this huge blight on the increase in the city with more sky trash (big black cables dangling everywhere that NO ONE can argue is aesthetically pleasing), but rather everyone seems to be up in arms about the vastly more minor, questionably negative, affect of these billboards. Is everyone blind?

First off, a big THANK YOU for your coverage of the billboard issue here in Los Angeles.

I am a resident of Hollywood, and sit as chair of the beautification committee in my neighborhood's civic association (the Hollywood Dell - HDCA).

A huge billboard on Cahuenga, just north of Franklin was recently converted to a digital billboard. We made several attempts to reach out to our City Councilman, Tom LaBonge, with no help. This City Council continues to let
us down immensely regarding the aesthetics (or lack thereof) in Hollywood.

To voice our concerns, our neighborhood is organizing a protest in front of the new digital billboard on Cahuenga this weekend, Saturday 10/25 - at 5:20 pm. We will be congregating in front of the sign.

Tammy
Hollywood Dell Civic Association

Whether one is for or against billboards, digital or otherwise, does not negate the fact that the outdoor advertising industry in Los Angeles has flagrantly violated the law for years now having erected an estimated 4,000 signs illegally.

That the City went and granted the industry a sweetheart settlement deal in 2006 without any public consultation whatsoever (a deal many City Council members now claim they were largely ignorant of despite having voted for it) is the real issue.

This deal and the illegality of outdoor advertising industy practice in L.A. is even more eggregious when considering each City Council member, as well as the current city attorney, has accepted in some cases significant campaign contributions from the industry.

If the people of L.A. are for more bigger and brighter billboards let them say so and let's have a public debate on the issue. (Let's not forget the city realizes no money off these signs not even the paltry $186 permitting fee the industry agreed to back in 2002). But so far public opinion on the issue appears to be lining up against the outdoor advertising industry which is why City Hall is now scrambling to make excuses for their backroom settlement deal and make amends with the electorate.

I commuted on the LA freeways & surface streets for over 15 years, 150 miles RT per day. I am astounded at the failure of LA's City Council to take effective action. Why in the world does LA or any other government body need a study to determine if brilliantly lighted, dancing billboards are a traffic hazard? Don't they drive in traffic? Don't they see the close calls and traffic slow-downs that the existing signs already cause? Calling for a study is a stall designed only to set aside an action that they either don't want to take (and the electorate ought to wonder just WHY they don't want to do it), or that they perceive as too difficult to accomplish (then the electorate should conclude they have elected the wrong people to do the job!). As for the Governor's plan to put advertising on the Amber Alert signs, what a stupid blunder that would be! Good Grief! Commuter traffic already slows dangerously every time those Amber Alerts are posted. Our freeways need to run quickly and smoothly, not be clogged by start and stop traffic as drivers slow to read signs that are irrelevant to the task at hand - getting quickly from point A to point B. I've already written George Runner (an apparent cheerleader for the idiotic plan), and I'll continue to be vocal about it. The whole concept is at cross-purposes with the reason that freeways exist. Although the Amber Alert signs may have done some good since their inception, they could have done it just as well, without the downside of traffic tie-ups, if they'd only spelled out the message, "Amber Alert! Tune to AM 930 For Details."

G. Allen
CMSgt, USAF (Retired)

Advertising is big money and it is hard to curb something that provides jobs and income. On the negative side of the issue, you have the grafetti gangs that use it for their gang signs and terf areas. You also have the negative aspect of high electrical use unless the city government steps in and stipulates green power sources which I feel is slow to happen. Lastly, as commuters we are bombared with products, movies and other media that are sometimes over-the edge in terms of poluting our minds. Who are the policeing agents that are going to determine what is accepable and what is'nt? I have'nt been too impressed with the billboards or am I the only one?

Why am I forced to see advertising while I am driving? Nobody asked me if I wanted to be distracted while watching all the offensive drivers so I don't get hit. No wonder the insurance companies wanted to bill you by zip code. Someone is making money off of the electric billboards while others are paying for it.

It is important to clarify one point pertaining to billboard inspection fees. The $ 186 permit/inspection fee is the fee for the inital THREE year period following the settlement. That means that the City will see $ 62 per year for inspections-- not $ 186. Because of this incredibly low fee, it will take nearly 3 years for the City to complete the long-awaited inventory of existing signs. This is why many neighborhoods are joining together to do billboard inventories of their own.

Because the outdoor advertising companies received their ability to erect digital billboards as a condition of the secretly negotiated billboard lawsuit settlement, there was no public debate or conversation pertaining to this important public policy issue. (And, by the way, the litigation brought by the billboard companies was brought over the companies' displeasure with the fees adopted for the billboard inspection program and had NOTHING to do with digital billboards which weren't even on the City's agenda at the time that the 2002 off-site sign ordinance was passed.)

So now it appears that the outdoor advertising industry can put digital billboards basically wherever they wish to convert an existing billboard to electronic format. Each company can submit up to 10 applications for "modernizations" per month and, if the City fails to process those applications before the following month, the City's Building and Safety Dept. is forbidden from issuing building permits for any purpose as written on page 9 of Settlement Agreement: “In the event that, despite its best efforts, the City is unable to process and act upon the permit applications within such time, and until the City has done so, the City shall refrain from acting upon any applications for building, demolition, or relocation permits for any structure, including but not limited to signs, submitted to it after the applicable Monthly Submission Date." Is it reasonable to wonder who wrote the agreement and how the City could have entered into it?

In addition to the issues related to blight, impacts on neighbors and neighborhood character (we have a neighbor who has said that her family lives in the shadows of a 24-hour per day digital sunrise), there are huge concerns about impacts on safety of drivers, passengers and pedestrians. The digital signs are designed to distract. That is their purpose – to steal a moment or so of your time to sell a message, a product, an image… to the passing motorist. So, what happens when that motorist is distracted? Does s/he miss a green arrow causing increased traffic delays and congestion? Does s/he neglect to “watch the road?” (Remember that recent DOT promotional program that might now be discarded in favor of a “watch the sign” campaign?) Since it only takes a second to cause an accident, is there shared negligence should a sign’s distracting quality actually contribute to an accident that results in injuries to a driver, passenger, bike rider and/or pedestrian? (The City is often so careful to avoid exposure to potential litigation but seems not to have been concerned about this aspect of exposure.)

Neighbors to the south of my area have great photographs of the digital sign near their homes that is located in such a manner that the traffic signal in front of the sign blends into the screen’s image to approaching drivers. When the light is red (or green) and the same color appears on the digital sign, it is difficult to see the signal. Yet, that possibility was never taken into account when the permit was issued. It was issued as requested. Traffic studies on the safety of the digital signs are currently underway. More prudent decision-makers would have waited to see the results of these studies BEFORE opening the City’s streets to these signs.

Financial benefit to the landlords, and sign companies (and their beneficiaries) cannot be the measure used to tilt the argument in favor of digital signage… or any signage in the City. Our Planning Dept. has made a pledge to “do good planning.” I and many of my peers would argue that good planning does not include an open gate to turn the City into an advertising tableau. (Let’s not forget the proposal to place thousands of square feet of digital signs on the City’s own Convention Center in the line of sight of drivers on two adjacent major freeways -- and then let’s take action to stop these signs.)

Recently, arguments have been presented that certain projects cannot be built and be viable without the revenues generated from signage. If that is the case, then those projects should not go forward. Likewise, it is not appropriate for our City, in a time of funding shortfalls, to consider allowing signage in exchange for additional fees that might be assessed. This is a slippery slope, indeed. There is no price that can be placed on the public’s visual right-of-way, on the value of our views, the right to privacy in our homes from glaring billboard lights, etc. Tourists may go to Times Square to see the signs, but they do not come to Los Angeles to see digital signs. They may come to see the Hollywood sign, but that is a far different creation rooted in our City’s history and is an icon recognized around the world.

Thus far, the City’s leaders have abdicated their planning responsibilities to a business with insatiable profit motives and no respect for the environment or the fabric of our City. It is now up to each resident and businessperson in the City to tell their Council Member and the Mayor that they want to see a REAL off-site sign ban put in place… one that is enforceable, one without exceptions. (Business people should be just as concerned about these large off-site signs because, if you think about it, individual businesses suffer when their own signs are dwarfed by nearby off-site signage.) Keep in mind that the City is currently facing many sign-related legal challenges and is unable to enforce its sign regulations because of exceptions granted in the past. Therefore, it is prudent for the City to consider and adopt an outright off-site advertising ban which will be far easier to enforce and uphold over time.

The time is now. That is why I have joined and support the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight. Check out their website for more info: www.banbillboardblight.org.