California gives LA control over freeway-facing billboards: What's next?

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A state ban on billboards near freeways was recently lifted for a busy section of the 110 Freeway downtown, placing authority over roadside visual clutter in the hands of the Los Angeles City Council.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 1373 into law on Friday. The bill, by Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, removes Caltrans authority over new standard and digital billboards for the east side of the 110 Freeway from Interstate 10 north to 8th Street.    

Don't look for the corridor to immediately resemble the neon Las Vegas Strip. There are several political hurdles to clear before new billboards can go up.
    
For starters, existing city law bans all new so-called off-site billboards. Those are billboards that advertise businesses that are not located where the sign is. A McDonald's sign that's not at a McDonald's restaurant is an example of an off-site sign.
   
City officials have been working on a new sign ordinance to permit new billboards since 2009. It's been a torturous process, with various versions proposed and discarded.
    
 The mayor's appointed Planning Commission recently approved a set of fairly strict rules that would allow new signs only within special sign districts.
    
For those rules to become law, they must pass a review by the city council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee  headed by downtown Councilman Jose Huizar. He's asked for a study of how the city could benefit from rules that would permit more signs to go up.
    
In a statement, a Huizar's spokesman said the councilman is reviewing the new state law.     

Mayor Eric Garcetti was waiting for the PLUM Committee to finalize its version for council review before he weighs in, said his spokeswoman Connie Llanos in a statement.

"He expects any final ordinance to continue protecting the character of neighborhoods and require thorough vetting by the City Planning Commission, Council and Mayor," she said.

Meantime, the billboard industry continues to lobby the city.

"Those downtown developers, those interests, are going to have a lot of sway with the City Council," said Dennis Hathaway of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight.
    
Sign companies have put up billboards endorsing council members who are drafting the new sign law. Those companies are also among the city's biggest spenders on lobbying. As of June, billboard companies were on track for record spending in support of changing L.A. sign laws.

In the first two quarters of 2016, outdoor advertising companies had spent more than $1 million lobbying city officials. Clear Channel, also known as iHeartMedia Inc. led with $446,626. Regency Outdoor Advertising spent $159,380 and Outfront Media, previously known as CBS Outdoor, spent $137,000.

Lamar Advertising spent $58,700 during 2015 on billboards supporting the reelection six City Council candidates. Nearly half that amount, $26,500, was spent on billboards for Huizar, who chairs the PLUM Committee, which will make critical recommendations to the City Council about what new sign ordinance to adopt.
    
The company spent $7,600 each on billboards for Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Paul Krekorian, Nury Martinez, and Herb Wesson. It also spent $1,800 on billboard space for Mitchell Englander. Councilmembers Harris-Dawson and Englader are on the PLUM Committee.

 

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