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Captive City: The Charade of Democracy in L.A. — Put That Up on a Digital Billboard

In the amazing debate over what to do about poor Billy the Elephant, one Council member after another got up and admitted they didn’t know what they were doing two years ago when they approved spending $40 million or so on a new pachyderm exhibit at the L.A. Zoo.

And even more incredibly, they were still in the billboard3.jpgdark after all these years of plans and reports and discussions what their  options are so they put off a decision for another day.

We’re talking here about the nation’s highest paid municipal officials at more than $170,000 a year with vast staffs of 20 which puts them in a class with the chairs of major congressional committees and they stand up in public and admit they don’t know what they’re doing.

If only it was about one elephant. But it’s the truth about everything they do. They don’t know, they don’t care. They take orders from unions, lobbyists and special interests and all their efforts are focused on manipulating the politics of every situation to their own advantage.

And that usually means keeping the public as ignorant as possible and as fragmented as possible because when the people actually know what’s going and unite, the council crumbles and runs for cover to avoid accountability.

Christine Pelisek
in the LA Weekly puts one of a hundred issues like this under the microscope in a long and devastating dissection of how the city came to be taken over by digital billboards — an assault on our visual sense of place that is only exceeded by the foolhardy rush to trash every neighborhood with more and taller buildings as if densification will improve the quality of life for anyone other than those who profit from it.

She traces how the city won its case in courtagainst the billboard companies and how City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo worked out a settlement that allowed these scofflaws to remove some of their illegal billboards — a fraction of the 4,000 they put up without permits — in exchange for putting up nearly 1,000 giant electronic signs that flash new messages every few seconds. The council approved the deal — no questions asked — within days unanimously.

“Each new sign is capable of pulling in $735,000 in annual gross ad revenue, with a top monthly intake of $128,000 for a single heavily booked, LED display,” Pelisek reports.

?Thanks to the Council’s action, signed several days later without any challenge by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the huge billboard firms stand to reap a windfall of up to $1 billion in ad revenue each year from the 800-plus digital displays, according to L.A. Weekly calculations.

“City Hall’s take for granting this crass new form of clutter: about $100 per billboard…elected leaders paint a picture of confusion and ignorance that led to their 2006 unanimous vote to grant broad new rights to the digital-ad companies. Some City Council members, seven of whom, along with Villaraigosa, are seeking re-election March 3, say they have no recollection of why they agreed to the dramatic digital makeover of the city’s streets.”

Here’s what Councilman Tom LaBonge has to say: “I am looking at my daily calendar for that day. I don’t recall it being a lengthy discussion at all…We just took it, and obviously many of us regret it. It seems like this city has never had a successful strategy with billboards.”

And Councilman Dennis Zine: “I can’t recall back that far. When we discussed digital, I don’t think anyone had a clear idea of what it was about. It was new to me…I don’t know if any of us saw how bright they would be. It’s a whole new world. I had never seen it before, so I don’t know how we would have known what it is. I thought it would be one advertisement on the board.”

And Council President Eric Garcetti:  “It was probably a mistake…It was a really bad decision…There is no massive conspiracy of billboard companies owning Council members…I don’t want to make too many excuses…you have to rely on your lawyers.”

Amnesia, ignorance, bad legal advice — but nobody is making excuses.

It isn’t just Billy or billboards. It’s the open slather policy on development with the full intent of denying a say to residents of the city that’s just like this. It’s the solar energy plan that enriches the IBEW and their own campaign coffers that was approved without examining the implications of a policy that will cost the public a fortune and slow expansion of green energy and the development of a major industry in L.A.

It’s everywhere you look. Call it incompetence, call it criminal.

The point is the same: They spent special interest money to trick the public into giving them a third term when they have forfeited their right to be our leaders. And they have locked up their re-election in March with the same dirty money — thousands of times more than their challengers can raise.

We are held captive by them even as they sell out the public interest to special interests. We can elect agents for change to City Attorney and the Controller offices. We can reject every measure they put on the ballot. We can organize and mobilize into a unified force and change the system and hold them accountable.

Or we can sit back in our apathy and defeatism and let the amnesiacs and ignoramuses and crooks decide the future of our city.

Photos by Ted Soqui in the LA Weekly.

This entry was posted in City Hall, Hot Topics, Los Angeles. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Captive City: The Charade of Democracy in L.A. — Put That Up on a Digital Billboard

  1. Anonymous says:

    So… after two years they backpeddle on the elephant deal, why the hell aren’t they backpeddling on the billboard deal.
    The answer is: money. There is a $40 million pot of money Alarcon and Cardenas could steal from LaBonge in the elephant deal. With billboards, the only thing these idots can lose is our votes, and so far that hasn’t been a problem for them.
    Until it IS a problem, the public is screwed.
    WAKE UP, PEOPLE!!!

  2. gregory914 says:

    Why don’t we take the $10 Million needed, by the C of LA, for the some 7000 untested Rape Kits sitting on the shelf and “give” another $7 Million to the County for their 5000 untested Rape Kits and get some evidence on some slimbuckets. I bet you that there are not 12,000 Rapists. After comparing all the evidence there’s maybe some 2000 or so AND probably half are already in jail for some other offense.
    This act alone would give an incredible amount of closure to many victims.
    Please?

  3. Anonymous says:

    The regime in Los Angeles technically cannot be called fascist, but in reality it functions in a similar manner. Raigo isn’t pulling the strings. He’s just a figurehead, and one that most Angelenos abhor.
    Our city is run by pseudo-fascists, and in the manner of Statists. Yes Statism… definition “concentration of economic controls and planning in the hands of a highly centralized government”. The People have no say in what will happen. We The People are being manipulated, by the events of the fabricated federal “economic crisis” and by the various inept schemes at City Hall, to run and hide. Our attention has been diverted. And most Angelenos are too stupid to understand the events that are occurring.
    Yes, our City is changing for the worse, before our eyes. The lower economic classes dominate. It’s being groomed as the Servant Pool City for Southern California. Los Angeles will soon be a city of primarily bus and subway users, commuting to clean the toilets of adjacent communities’ residents. Car usage is being discouraged by way of increased parking fees. planned traffic problems, and dense residential space. Property values are artificially held down. In reality, we see our way of life and standard of living downgraded. Crime has flourished. Overall living expenses has increased.
    The slick publicists at City Hall are promoting it’s changes as Smart Growth and Green Living. The truth is misrepresented. Their plans do not benefit anyone other than the rulers themselves.

  4. Anonymous says:

    If you wish to blame someone, blame the phoney, worthless Neighborhood Councils. Aren’t they suppose to stand up for and represent the interests of their neighborhoods. Don’t the “neighborhoods” care about the visual blight, enough to say NO? NO, they don’t care.
    Hey, what can the Neighborhood Councils do about it? How about organizing a lawsuit against the Department of Building and Safety for failing to provide current billboard locations and ownership? How about getting up off their fat butts and collectively present a City Council File to BAN ELECTRONIC BILLBOARDS in Los Angeles? Considering all the other “political statement” measures passed at City Council, doesn’t this issue deserve something more than just laments about past mistakes?
    These Neighborhood Council phoneys only serve to collect and then dole out City Grant moneys from City Hall funds. They feed their pet lackeys with public proceeds so that the lackeys will later oblige them in kind.

  5. Anonymous says:

    From the Christine Pelisek article in the LA Weekly,
    Quickly, the Silver Lake sign — from Clear Channel Outdoor advertising — became the biggest issue to hit the local neighborhood council in its sometimes-roiling five-year history. “We hate it,” says Laura Dwan, co-chair of the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council. “It went up very suddenly, with no notice to the community, whatsoever.”
    YOU MORON Laura Dwan of the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council!!! BY LAW, your organization is SUPPOSE TO BE INFORMED OF BUILDING ACTIVITY IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD. IT’S THE LAW. Why did that not occur? Your Councilperson is required to inform the local Neighborhood Council regarding instances SUCH AS THE NEW ELECTRONIC BILLBOARD.
    HELLO, HELLO… does anyone from the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council reside outside the INEPT DISTRICT!!!

  6. Anonymous says:

    How about we sponsor a neighborhood ‘count your bill boards’ day. Then rush city hall, tackling the keeper of the legit bill board list and find out once and for all which ones are illegit.
    LA is enforcing the bill board laws about effectively as the feds have enforce immigration laws. And money is at the root of both failures.
    Wouldn’t it be convenient if we could pick and choose which laws we want to follow?

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