Segment | Billboard Confidential

Billboard Confidential - Part 1

Los Angeles is ground zero for the $7 billion billboard industry, an industry some critics call more powerful than the NRA. Despite a 20002 ban on new billboards, the city council has continuously carved out exceptions to that ordinance, allowing for thousands of billboards to blanket the city. In the first part of our two-month investigation, we look at the politics and at what some call the “sweetheart deals” that have brought billboards to virtually every neighborhood in the city.


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Thank you for your timely program regarding the real problem of bill board blight in Los Angeles. I'm an LA native and have lived in Silver Lake for the past five years as I love this part of town for its rich cultural, political, lifestyle and architectural distinctiveness. I was shocked and angered when last week I noticed (how can one help but notice) the new digital bill board at the corner of Silver Lake Blvd & Effie. Just above Spaceland across from the 7 Eleven. This corner serves as a de facto welcome intersection into the heart of old Edendale and the lake area and all its beautiful historic homes. To fill the eye with crass advertisement... the same adds one sees in every other media outlet... is an unconsciousable intrusion into the psyche and soul of this neighborhood.

I wait to hear more in your series and congratulate you on this new SoCalConnected series dedicated to Los Angeles and its neighborhoods.

I don't have a photo of the billboard but since KCET is in the Silver Lake 'hood, you no doubt know of which I speak.

Sincerely,

R. E. Merrell

Rocky claiming he wasn't influenced by receiving almost a half million in ads for his run as City Attorney (against anti- billboard activist Mike Feuer) is absurd. As the LA Times reported, a few months ago he was feted at a lavish party at a Beverly Hills hotel by ClearChannel/CBS Outdoors -- would they throw a party like that for someone who wasn't their good buddy?

The fact that the city is not even collecting the pittance of $186/month per billboard when the companies are earning upto $150,000 per adds to the absurdity. According to your linked WestLA ONline piece, the city has only 3 inspectors who can't be everywhere, and with the companies having refused to give the city a list of legal billboards as they were required to under the very bad deal Rocky struck with them, they don't even have a database to work from. Rocky reduced, as your piece notes, the most fees by half and giving them the rights to add 800 LED's instead of removing illegal ones and paying backfees -- so the city doesn't have the money to hire more inspectors. Of course, if the billboard companies had been required to do as ordered by the Council instead of Rocky intervening on their behalf, the city would have the money for more inspectors and for city services like fixing the roads angry drivers must drive on while being hostage to this visual blight.

What's bizarre is that even with all this history, Rocky's still telling the Council to avoid litigation when it comes to letting billboard companies have their way. Like with the Staples center recently, also a bad deal for the city. And then Jan Perry and Ed Reyes recently successful won the right to create a billboard district in her council district which was then used by rival companies as among the examples for their successful suit against the city invalidating the existing billboard ban on the grounds that it was selectively violated by city officials. Wesson, Hahn and others also want billboards in parts of their districts.

Why, with hundreds of staff attorneys, is Rocky afraid of every lawsuit even when the city seems clearly in the right? Why is he telling Council and the LA Weekly that the list of legal billboards is "proprietary" and they're not entitled to it? They know that this makes enforcement and collecting fees due difficult if not impossible. In fact, the city needs to go back and demand (or increase to current market rates) the full fees that they ordered Rocky to get, and demand interest on unpaid fees.

Thank you for calling attention to this huge lost revenue as the city is raising rates on everything from parking meters to zoo admissions for kids, and raising property and sales taxes to provide basic services which don't even allow them to pave many of our crumbling streets, provide buses and add rail lines or build a decades-delayed subway which would reduce gridlock. Gridlock that forces people to stare at these monstrous signs even longer. Then there's the issue of safety in putting them right alongside freeways, and of reducing people's property values and quality of life by having these LED's flashing into homes 24/7. And what about the waste of energy, as we're encouraged to turn off extra lights at our homes and use energy-efficient, more expensive lightbulbs?

Clearly as your small-time billboard owner suspects, there was a quid pro-quo and so the city should simply stop listening to anything Rocky advises on billboards. We don't want the city look like Las Vegas -- something the City of West Hollywood is trying to achieve for the Sunset Strip, which is in that city and not LA, by the way.

That was a great show on Billboards last night. I had no idea that it was so unregulated or more to the point the lack of enforcement regarding where these large overbearing eyesores are planted. The problem is we clearly do not have enough politicians representing the will of the people or the greater good of society. No One wants to walk in their neighboorhood or drive down the street and have corporate america shoving their crap in our faces on a daily basis. These billboards should strictly left to commercial areas and limited.

Thank you so much for the show on billboards here in L.A.
For years I've been wondering why Angelenos tolerate the ugliness and crassness of what we see on a daily basis, and now I understand. Clearly, the billboard companies and advertisers have it figured out. I admire very much the two men who've been fighting this for 40 years. What can we do to help them?
Imagine what Los Angeles would look like without billboards. It would so dramatically improve and humanize the atmosphere of life here.
I hope you will do follow-up shows on this subject.

SOCAL/KCET:

Kudos to your team for a well-reported and executed story on Los Angeles billboards and the political backdrop that entails the issue.

Being a native of Hawai'i - like Beverly Hills - I came from a land where billboards are banned. When I arrived in Tinsel Town, I actually liked many of the billboards and the creativity and artistry displayed in some ads. I like the digital billboards, too. But too much of anything is annoying.

I remember a friend telling me that Disney paid over $100,000 a month for the right to place the penthouse-to-ground billboard on the side of the building on the Sunset strip. I thought, "that must be great income for the landlord and the city of West Hollywood."

Imagine my shock to learn by your story that with a less-than-$200 permit, these signs go up with no payment in perpetuity to taxpayers. (Your story did not mention if the permit fee was one-time, monthly, annually, etc.)

With cities looking for additional streams of revenue, why can't a state law be passed for a 10 or 15 percent monthly fee based on the gross income of each sign, in perpetuity? If some boards gross outdoor advertising companies $150,000/month, I'd like $15,000 for my city council, please. Passing this to the state assembly would take legal burdens off the shoulders of smaller cities while presenting the municipalities with the income.

As you well know, wireless spectrum licensees pay billions to the Federal Government for the right to broadcast on those frequencies, which belong to the public. Unlike a television/radio broadcaster that serves the public interest, I don't believe the outdoor companies' First Amendment rights are curtailed by instituting such a fee because I don't have a choice to shut a billboard off at an intersection while waiting for the red light to change -- it's forced down my throat.

The City could further offer exclusivity and digital-video licenses to hot-traffic corners where one company would pay a premium and control all billboards on that corner, with the contingency that they would take down smaller boards in residential areas -- like the poor guy you featured who has that awful signage at a low height adjacent to his front lawn. (The sign owner should pay a portion of that neighborhood's mortgage/rent!)

Finally, if the city is not going to collect perpetuity license fees, all digital boards should be subject to carry a Public Service Announcement in their display cycle, and during emergencies -child abductions, earthquakes or evacuations, traffic accidents and alternate route advisories - offer immediate public information from officials.

Mr. Keoni Tyler
Film & Television Director-Editor-Writer
Beverly Hills, CA.

So what if billboards and other outdoor ads are not pleasing to the eye? BIG DEAL!!!

The outdoor advertising industry is responsible for employing millions of people in this country. From the sign hanger, sign manufacturer, sales people, creative people and etc.

If the cities were smart, they would allow for more billboards, but companies could pay about 3% of the revenue they make from a sign. That way a city can make ends meet with transit programs, public safety programs and more.

BILLBOARDS ARE GOOD!!

It's simple, No Electronic Billboards! They L.A. look borderline gross and commercialize our city. L.A. is one of the most beautiful locations for a city in the world with its views and natural surroundings. The billboards ruin that.