By Dennis Hathaway, Ban Billboard Blight
Given the opportunity of a TV interview to discuss the propriety of a plan to sell space in L.A. city parks for commercial ads, Barry Sanders, president of the Recreation and Parks Commission, adopted the tone of an authoritarian parent addressing slightly dimwitted children and proceeded to explain why critics–including a city council member and the city attorney’s office- misunderstood almost everything about the plan that first surfaced last fall when the commission voted to allow Warner Bros. to put images from its upcoming “Yogi Bear” movie in three of the city’s most popular parks.
The commission rescinded that action after Councilman Paul Koretz invoked a seldom-used city charter provision that allows the city council to veto actions of charter commissions. Despite this about-face, Sanders told a reporter for KCET’s “SoCal Connected series” last week that even though the images Warner Bros. was going to place on fences, light standards, building walls and picnic tables throughout the parks were identical to images used in the movie’s marketing campaign, they weren’t advertising anything and therefore the objections raised by Koretz and community members were misplaced.
Sanders, a retired partner at Latham & Watkins, one of L.A.’s largest and most politically influential law firms, also dismissed the opinion of the city attorney’s office that the signs would violate the city’s ban on new off-site advertising. Because the Yogi Bear images were simply recognizing a corporate gift to city parks–a gift netting the city the grand sum of $46,636–Sanders argued that they fell into the category of “government speech” and therefore were exempt from regulations governing commercial signage. The interviewer, Brian Rooney, pointed out that the Yogi Bear signs were to be displayed for four weeks leading up to the movie’s opening, and that Warner Bros. has apparently lost interest in making this “gift” to the parks now that the movie has aired. Despite those facts, Sanders didn’t waver in his expressed conviction that the park images had absolutely nothing to do with luring parents and children to buy tickets to the movie.
This alternate view of what many might consider common-sense reality extends far beyond the stillborn Yogi Bear scheme.