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L.A. City Council postpones vote on billboard law

May 26, 2009 |  1:39 pm

When things look dicey, politicians at City Hall have a time-tested strategy: punt. So, faced with criticism from business leaders and neighborhood councils, the Los Angeles City Council put off a vote on the complicated overhaul of its sign ordinance, agreeing to wait until after July 1 to make a decision -- after City Atty.-elect Carmen Trutanich is seated.

The council originally had been scheduled to vote on a plan that would have restricted digital billboards citywide but allowed them in sign districts. The council postponed a vote until September and agreed to extend its temporary ban on new signs for an additional 90 days.

As part of the proposed law, up to 21 areas were eligible to become sign districts, including portions of Westwood, Koreatown, Encino and downtown Los Angeles.

Throughout today’s hearing, Trutanich was chatting up council members in the room behind the council chamber, signaling that he wasn’t entirely fond of the proposed sign law and would like to weigh in on it.

“My job will be to defend the city,” he said. “I want to make sure that [the new law] is tight, that’s all.”

The council decided to rework its sign law last year after receiving complaints from residents in Silver Lake, Westwood and the San Fernando Valley about new digital signs being installed in their neighborhoods. Those digital signs were made possible by a legal settlement approved by the council in 2006.

Billboard industry representatives who were at City Hall today called such complaints overblown.

“They were getting blowback from a fringe group of people,” said Ryan “R.B.” Brooks, vice president of governmental affairs for CBS Outdoor, which had asked for the vote to be postponed.

The delay left at least one billboard critic anxious. Dennis Hathaway, president of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight, said he feared the delay would simply give business groups more time to water down the proposed outdoor advertising law.

“This just gives them more time to ramp up their lobbying,” Hathaway said. “The pressure is going to be to allow more weaknesses [in the law], so we’re going to have to counteract that.”

-- David Zahniser

Photo: L.A. Times

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