Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz is pushing against an immovable object, the billboard lobby.
A judge late last year struck down a questionable settlement between two billboard companies and the city which gave the firms permission to convert up to 840 billboards from a traditional format to the bright, ever changing digital models. The Times reported 92 have been converted. Two of them are on Westwood Boulevard and one is nearby on Santa Monica Boulevard. This is in the heart of Koretz’ Westside 5th District.
You’d think a judge would have some power. Unfortunately, when Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Terry A. Green threw out the deal, he left it up to the city to decide whether to revoke the permits held by the two companies, Clear Channel Outdoor and CBS Outdoor. That was pretty much a guarantee that no signs would be changed back to non-digital.
Koretz introduced a motion calling for removal of all the digital billboards. “They’re a blight,” he told me, “particularly with the large number we have. They’re a distraction to drivers. I was driving past the one south of Wilshire, and I took my eye off the road briefly when it flashed and a jay walking pedestrian ran in front of my car and had a close call.”
But his measure is still in a committee. He wasn’t optimistic about getting much support on the 15 member council, although he’s hopeful that a few colleagues with billboard afflicted districts might help.
Homeowners in his district are stymied. The Westwood South of Santa Monica Homeowners Association (my wife Nancy and I are members) protested that the Building and Safety Department had erred in granting the permits for the three Westwood Boulevard signs. A city appeals officer agreed with them on two of the billboards. But the sign owners have appealed. The appellate machinery grinds slowly.
Billboard clout is legendary. The agreement that permitted all the digital billboards was negotiated by then City Rocky Delgadillo. In a story on another of the billboard legal tangles, Times reporter David Zahniser recalled how Clear Channel Outdoor and other sign companies spent $425,000 on billboards promoting Delgadillo’s successful candidacy five years before he negotiated the agreement.
This will be a big test for Koretz. His opponents will fight in the courts, in the city bureaucracy, in the council and, if necessary, in the office of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. It’s a multi front war. Go get them, councilman.