Editor’s Note: Former LA City Planning Commission President Jane Usher has submitted a written statement (Usher-billboards1.rtf) in advance of Wednesday morning’s public hearing on a proposed new sign ordinance for the city. She also released this oral statement she will make.
By Jane Usher
Good morning Commissioners. My name is Jane Usher. I submitted a detailed written statement to you earlier. Copies are available in the back of the room.
We are here today because the city of Los Angeles is suffering from a disease called sign proliferation. Let’s get this much straight. Our disease is not due to the silence of our laws. Since 2002, our city’s regulations have prohibited new billboards and alterations to existing billboards. This means that our current law bans all digital billboards. Our current laws also explicitly prohibit supergraphics. And yet, the city is awash in sign proliferation of these very types.
So what is causing our disease? Two unfortunate things: our zany exceptions to our own rules and our failure to enact behavior-influencing enforcement tools. Our current code allows the City to create billboard districts but provides no guidelines for judging these requests. This free-for-all was exacerbated in 2006 when the City Council granted the greatest exception imaginable: it authorized 840 digital billboards, to be installed at locations chosen by the sign companies. Our exceptions have led to dozens of lawsuits that challenge our basic billboard ban on the grounds that it has been unfairly applied. And, two, our code does not contain penalties or programs that would inspire sign companies to obey our rules.
We need a cure. But the ordinance before you today is not what the doctor ordered. It is, in truth, a distraction. It offers up an unnecessary, complicated new rubric that will invite another decade of litigation. It is light years behind New York City on the subject of penalties and enforcement protocols. And it is similarly weak when it comes to laying down unequivocal and sensible standards for granting exceptions. In fact, the proposal advances this aspect of our disease by recommending that you allow seven proposed billboard districts to march forward, still with no guidelines for judging them.
Planning Commissioners, you are in desperate need of a second medical opinion. One that focuses on the things that are actually making us sick. It is time for the political quacks who have brought us to this unfortunate day to step aside and let real doctors, real planners, in.