Los Angeles Steps Up Fight on Large Ads
LOS ANGELES — This city has opened a new front in its longstanding battle with billboard companies, ordering building owners to remove so-called supergraphic signs, enormous advertisements draped across multistory structures, after deeming them fire hazards.
Los Angeles city officials said the signs, made mostly of vinyl, had proliferated since December, when the City Council passed a temporary ban on billboards and large signs. The stopgap move was an effort to give the city more time to close loopholes in a 2002 law intended to curtail billboard advertisements.
Jack Weiss, a city councilman who wrote the temporary ordinance, said the original legislation was supposed to put a stop to the supergraphic signs. “Instead,” Mr. Weiss said, “the supergraphic companies have plastered their signs up all over the city and are thumbing their noses at the law.”
“Many of these signs are dangerous,” he added. “They prevent people from getting out in case of fire, or firefighters from getting in.”
The Fire Department estimates that more than 100 buildings from downtown to the coast have illegal signs.
Inspectors have ordered 20 building owners to remove large signs, Mr. Weiss said, and will continue to issue warnings.
A violation of the billboard ordinance carries a maximum monthly fine of $2,500. But Mr. Weiss said the signs could bring in $100,000 in rent for building owners.
The city has been blocked from enforcing the 2002 law because of legal entanglements, including lawsuits by billboard companies over free-speech rights. In 2006 and 2007, the city settled lawsuits with three of the largest billboard companies — CBS Outdoor, Clear Channel Outdoor and Regency — allowing them to convert as many as 850 print billboards to electronic ones.
Even so, the supergraphic signs seem to be gaining in popularity.
People in neighborhoods across the city have reported seeing work crews unfurling the banners at night and on weekends. Barbara Broide, who lives in the West Los Angeles district, said she and her neighbors had photographed workers in cranes mounting the signs with thick plastic cables before leaving in trucks piled high with more folded signs.
Ms. Broide, 55, said many neighborhood groups were frustrated by the lack of billboard regulation.
“These companies are not only not complying, but doing things dangerous to building occupants and firefighters,” Ms. Broide said. “And yet these signs seem to persist.”