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L.A. city attorney blasts Planning Commission vote on billboards, issues stern warning to members

July 13, 2009 |  8:08 pm

Newly-elected Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich sent a blistering letter to city planners who approved a billboard plan over his objections last week -- stating that by “acting in haste, for no apparent reason,” they “undermined and jeopardized” the work of his office.

Trutanich sent the letter to members of the city Planning Commission on Friday, the day after the panel approved a plan for placing 40,000 square feet of billboards and other outdoor signs on the Los Angeles Convention Center near the congested interchange of the 10 and 110 freeways downtown.

Trutanich, who took office July 1, promised during the campaign that he would immediately crack down on illegal billboards and revamp the city’s sign regulations. The day before the commission meeting, Trutanich sent a letter to members asking for a two-week delay on decisions about the Convention Center billboards so that he would have time to review the policy.

Their decision to ignore his request, Trutanich wrote Friday, amounted to “an unfathomable lack of courtesy” for his administration and granted new billboard rights at a time when the city is trying to reduce the number of signs.
The City Council passed a 2002 ban on billboards, which has been the focus of a number of successful legal challenges by outdoor advertising companies. One of the ban’s weaknesses, Trutanich noted, was that the council approved numerous exceptions to the restrictions.

In his letter, Trutanich said the city had not been able to enforce its billboard ban due to its practice of “authorizing exceptions much like the ones you purported to authorize Thursday.”

“Please be advised that there are limits to the discretion and governmental immunities that you enjoy as public officials,” he wrote. “I will not hesitate to act in the future if it appears that you are aiding and abetting unlawful conduct despite my contrary advice.”

Planning commissioners could not be reached for comment late Monday.

Last year, the council agreed to sell signage rights for the Convention Center to the owner and operator of Staples Center, Anschutz Entertainment Group.

The entertainment group would pay the city at least $2 million a year over the next 10 years and also share a portion of the net advertising profits derived from the signs. The planning commission’s action related to the features, location and size of the signs.

-- Maeve Reston at L.A. City Hall