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Ad firm behind 'supergraphics' sued by city of Los Angeles

September 19, 2011 | 11:19 am

Building at the intersection of North Highland and Franklin avenues with large graphic signs

The city of Los Angeles has filed a lawsuit demanding millions of dollars from a Beverly Hills-based outdoor advertising company, saying it illegally wrapped 17 buildings with towering “supergraphic” advertisements.

In court documents filed Friday, City Atty. Carmen Trutanich said SkyTag and its president, Michael McNeilly, deprived the city of permitting fees, created traffic hazards and endangered the lives of people who were inside buildings whose windows were covered by the multistory vinyl ads.

Trutanich said he wants $2,500 for each day that a violation was committed by SkyTag, which has been at odds with the city for roughly a decade. Given the number of signs that are at issue, potential penalties in the case are “in the tens of millions of dollars,” said William Carter, Trutanich’s chief deputy.

The lawsuit drew praise from one anti-billboard activist, who described SkyTag as "the worst" of the companies that have attempted to overturn the city's outdoor advertising laws. SkyTag “deliberately flouted the law for a profit -- a lot of profit," said Dennis Hathaway, president of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight. He argued that SkyTag faced minimal fines while reaping hundreds of thousands of dollars in ad revenue each month.

"This not only has the potential to bring the city some money, but it sends a message: You violate the law that way and you're going to pay for it,” Hathaway said.

McNeilly said he had not seen the lawsuit but insisted that his company went “by the book” in its handling of the signs.

McNeilly’s company became well known in 2009 after it placed enormous images of the Statue of Liberty on office buildings in Hollywood, Miracle Mile, Westwood and several other parts of town. The company’s graphics advertised an array of products, including the movies “Clash of the Titans" and “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel,” according to the lawsuit. Those images were erected in the middle of a hard-fought legal battle with the city and were in highly prominent locations, such as Sunset Boulevard and Hollywood Boulevard.

Last year, SkyTag failed to persuade the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal to strike down the city's billboard laws. McNeilly said the signs that were up during that time were protected by a court order. Once the city prevailed in court, the signs went down, he said. “We went by the rules,” he added.

Neighborhood activists have long disagreed, saying McNeilly illegally put up signs when a citywide ban on supergraphics was already in effect. They also accused him of misleading a federal judge about the number of signs that existed.

The city's suit against SkyTag also names a handful of other defendants, including the real estate companies Legacy Partners and CIM Group.


L.A. bans new supergraphics in Hollywood

Businessman held on $1-million bail in supergraphic case

CBS Outdoor agrees to pay L.A. $4 million in supergraphics settlement

-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall

Photo: A building at the intersection of North Highland and Franklin avenues with large graphic signs on three sides as seen on Feb. 15, 2009. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times