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L.A. City Council bans new digital billboards, supergraphics, freeway-facing signs

August 7, 2009 |  2:28 pm

The Los Angeles City Council voted today for an emergency measure that would prohibit the installation throughout the city of new digital billboards, multi-story supergraphics and certain signs that face freeways.

The council unanimously approved the ordinance out of fears that a federal judge could issue an injunction later this month halting the city from enforcing an existing temporary ban on outdoor signs.
The council has been passing temporary bans to give it time to rewrite its sign laws in a way that can withstand a legal challenge.

To ensure that today’s measure received enough votes for immediate passage, Councilman Bill Rosendahl returned early from a medical leave to participate in the discussion. “I’m here to give the 12th vote to move this ordinance,” said Rosendahl, who is recovering from hernia surgery.

Council members have said they fear that an adverse ruling would draw a flood of applications for new digital signs and supergraphics, which can cover one or more sides of a single building. But business leaders criticized the new law, saying it was put together at the last minute and violated efforts by real estate interests to work cooperatively with neighborhoods.

City Hall lobbyist Sheri Bonstelle, whose law firm represents a company that has been fighting to keep a supergraphic on the side of the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, warned the council that the new ban would simply invite more lawsuits. “You’re not creating the solution that you desire,” she told the council.

The council took its action in response to a lawsuit filed by Liberty Media Group, which has a hearing before a federal judge on Aug. 17 challenging the city’s latest sign moratorium. In a filing prepared by the Mayer Brown law firm, Liberty said that city officials had not followed the proper state procedures needed to extend such temporary bans. 

Liberty also accused the city of allowing high-profile projects in Hollywood to receive exceptions to the sign moratorium. Eight of those signs are on the proposed W Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard at Vine Street, the company charged.

One of those signs, visible from the 101 Freeway on the W Hotel’s rooftop, displays an advertisement for the Los Angeles Times. That fact drew fire from John Walsh, a frequent critic of the council and The Times, who told the council that such signs present a conflict of interest for the newspaper, which has been covering the billboard saga.

Nancy Sullivan, a spokeswoman for The Times, said no such conflict exists.

“The business and editorial sides of the Los Angeles Times operate independently — a separation of church and state — to ensure our ability to fairly report on issues that may relate to the company’s business endeavors,” Sullivan said in a statement.

“With regard to The Times’ ads in question, we have contracted in good faith with outdoor advertising companies that the media space is permitted and in compliance with applicable guidelines.”

-- David Zahniser at L.A. City Hall