UPDATE: Shortly after the City Council voted on the billboard moratorium, Jack Weiss’ office put out a press release boasting of his leadership on the issue. And Bernard Parks’ office announced four billboards were going up in the next month in his district offering a reward of up to $500,000 for the arrest and conviction of the “Grim Sleeper” serial killer. Parks’ press release said Clear Channel Outdoor “has consistently been a responsible member of the communities it serves and also takes a proactive role in making the communities better places to live.” And now City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, the main culprit in the billboard fiasco, has joined the PR orgy with his own self-congratulatory praise of the moratorium.
Call me a cynic, call me a troublemaker, call me Ishmael for all I care, but when I hear the City Council try to sell out the public interest, it makes me mad as hell.
Let’s start with the closed-door session on Tuesday when under the ruse of talking about one of the two dozen or so lawsuits the despicable billboard companies have filed against the city over its bungling — deliberately corrupt or mere incompetence as the case might be — the council discussed for nearly two hours a six-month moratorium on all new billboards.
Janice Hahn admitted that today they really talked about the moratorium — a clear violation of the state open meeting law — and that they had reached agreement in closed session on a ban on all billboards, not just digital signs supergraphics.
But even that weakening of what had started out as a one-year moratorium was too much for Jack Weiss — the wannabe City Attorney who rests his case in great part on his tough stand against billboard blight.
Weiss, aided by Ed Reyes, proposed not only reducing the moratorium to three month but watering it down to only electronic billboards and supergraphics.
It was a screwball twist that only Hahn and to some extent Bernard Park had the honesty to challenge. How could anything be more outrageous in a city where more than a third of the 11,000 off-site billboards were put up without permits, many of them decades ago?
Such concerns never occurred to Bill Rosendahl or Wendy Greuel or Tom LaBonge who couldn’t rush fast enough to get unanimous agreement on anything.
That may be the most important point. They needed unanimity and they needed 12 votes and they were desperate to get this interim control ordinance for a moratorium passed today.
The reason for that is the lesson people who actually care about the quality of life in L.A. need to take to heart.
Just days ago, the council intended to put this off until January when they return from their luxury Christmas vacations By then, they hoped permits would be pulled by their contributors for more digital and supergraphic monstrosities and more offensive billboards.
But the public’s anger made that impossible. You can be sure that much of their illegal back room discussion was about how to defuse the public outrage while doing the least they could do.
The answer was to pass the moratorium but make it as brief as possible even though their lawyers and planners had told them they needed the full six months to find out where the 11,000 billboards are and which are illegal and to figure out an ordinance that actually stood up in court.
Once upon a time, the city had such an ordinance and it did stand up in court. But thanks to the City Attorney, the council and the mayor, they chose to cut deals with the billboard companies that undermined the ordinance and gave away the city sightscape to visual blight. Already, more than 100 digital billboards are in place.
Council members as usual claimed today they didn’t know what they were doing — a plea that falls on deaf ears when judges hear it in court whether it comes from hardened criminals or crooked politicians.
“I want the public to know we have good intentions,” Hahn declared, losing much of the credit she earned for pointing out Weiss’ hypocrisy a few moments earlier.
Just before the vote, Dennis Zine — perhaps upset that it was suggested by colleagues that he leave the room if he wouldn’t support a watered-down ordinance — told the anti-billboard activists what they really wanted to hear: Ban all new off-site billboards permanently like some communities have done.
Zine stood alone at that point but went along with the three-month moratorium on all off-site signage, a 14-0 vote.
That’s not the end of the story, only the beginning.
If you think this issue is important, you need to tap into the widespread public anger and organize to demand full participation in the planning process where a new ordinance will be developed. You need to work with Building and Safety and the City Attorney and the Planning Department to make sure what is drafted and finally approved is what you want.
You need a lawyer, a good lawyer.
There is a strong case to be made that the settlements with the billboard companies are illegal and were made without the authority to overturn the city’s zoning laws.
There is a strong case to be made that the deals being made with L.A. Live since the moratorium issue was raised violated the law.
There is a strong case to be made for a total ban on all billboards of any type until the mess is completely cleaned up.
And there’s an even stronger case that they city should be getting millions in revenue from the billboard companies and the property owners they pay to use their space rather than the few hundred dollars the city now gets.
But if you don’t learn the lesson of the billboard scandal, none of that will happen. When the people get angry enough to pose a threat to the rank and privileges of their elected officials, they do the right thing — at least while the anger is hot and the public is vigilant.
Frankly, nothing else works.