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L.A. council members hear from residents angered about digital billboards

November 17, 2009 |  7:05 pm
Pressure is building on members of the Los Angeles City Council to remove 101 digital billboards across the city, now that a judge has struck down a key settlement. But after hearing from more than 30 speakers today, members of a council committee put off making any recommendation to their colleagues.
The illuminated signs were erected under a 2006 agreement between the city and two outdoor advertising companies. That settlement was struck down by a Superior Court judge earlier this month.
But as they weighed their legal options, members on the council’s planning and land use committee heard an earful from residents urging them to immediately remove the bright, flashing signs in their neighborhoods and convert them back to conventional billboards. At the same time, representatives from settlement participants Clear Channel Outdoor Inc. and CBS Outdoor Inc. — backed by several business groups — urged the committee not to act hastily because the firms are appealing the judge’s ruling.
Jan Reichmann, president of the Comstock Hills Homeowners Assn., told committee members that she and her neighbors were living in the shadow of a huge digital billboard on Santa Monica Boulevard in Westwood. “It’s time to end the suffering from the blinking lights flashing into our homes and backyards, and the nonstop noise emanating from the huge cooling fans,” Reichmann said.
Others reminded committee members that they have faced lengthy delays as they have tried to challenge individual billboards through the city’s appeals process.

“We urge you not to put us through this ineffective process one pixel at a time,” said Marilyn Cohon, vice president of the Westwood South of Santa Monica Homeowners Assn. “We must find a way to undo the damage created in our communities without putting us through this tortured and fruitless process. The illegally converted digital billboards must not be permitted to remain.”

But officials from Clear Channel Outdoor and CBS Outdoor, who were granted special rights under the 2006 legal settlement to convert 840 signs to digital, said the companies were acting lawfully when they converted the 101 signs.

“To consider reneging on this deal is fundamentally unfair and just can’t be the policy of this city,” said Anthony Roman, a public affairs representative with Clear Channel Outdoor. “It sends a terrible message to the business community [that] the city has no regard for its contractual commitments and that businesses will be punished for working with the city.”
City lawyers plan to brief council members as early as next week on the effect of the judge’s ruling. Councilman Ed Reyes said the city would not take any action before that report.
Reyes and Council President Eric Garcetti have proposed ordering city officials to “immediately evaluate” whether the 101 digital signs should be removed or modified.
-- Maeve Reston at L.A. City Hall