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Panel Backs Banning New Billboards on Ventura Blvd.

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Planning Commission, in a 4-1 vote Thursday, approved an ordinance that would ban new billboards and slash the number of signs along Ventura Boulevard in Encino.

Leaders of Homeowners of Encino, who have pressed for a billboard ban for six years, hailed the vote as an overdue victory over commercial blight. But representatives of the sign industry vowed to continue fighting the proposal when it goes before the City Council’s Planning Committee, probably by the end of the month.

The ordinance would ban rooftop signs, allow no more than two signs on most buildings and forbid window signs covering more than 25% of the glass. It would also restrict the height of signs standing apart from buildings to 12 to 20 feet, depending on boulevard frontage.

Sandwich Sign Ban

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Portable signs on sidewalks, so-called sandwich signs, would be outlawed, as would signs that flash, blink or rotate, unless they indicate time, news or temperature.

The commission Thursday added a provision that would outlaw advertising balloons suspended above businesses.

The ordinance would give sign owners five years to comply with its terms. About 600 signs, 40% of the signs along Ventura Boulevard in Encino, would have to be modified or removed by the end of that time, city planner Marcus Woersching said.

Woersching said the plan was drafted to be consistent with restraints on signs at two other commercial centers in the San Fernando Valley--Warner Center and Universal City.

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“Ventura is just inundated by signs,” Planning Commission President Daniel P. Garcia told a crowd of about 75 people attending the meeting at the Van Nuys Woman’s Club. “It’s clearly a form of visual pollution.”

‘Breeds Counterrevolution’

Referring to sign industry efforts to defeat past billboard ordinances, Garcia said, “That kind of success breeds counterrevolution, so to speak.”

“There’s pressure and money on the other side, and that’s hard to fight,” said Gerald A. Silver, president of Homeowners of Encino.

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Although the commission voted in favor of the controls for Encino, four of the five commissioner, including the lone dissenter, William G. Luddy, expressed a preference for a citywide sign ordinance, rather than one for each community.

“If we’re going to do it, it should be evenhanded and address all parts of town at once,” Luddy said.

Sign industry officials also say they favor a citywide plan but one less restrictive than the proposed Encino ordinance.

“This piecemeal approach is unnecessary. The total prohibition of our industry is unconstitutional and unreasonable,” said Pilar Perry, a spokeswoman for Foster & Kleiser, a major Los Angeles billboard company that has lobbied against the ordinance.

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Proposal Called a ‘Sham’

Silver, however, called the proposal for a citywide ordinance a “sham,” which the sign industry would use to water down a billboard ban.

Robert Keenan, administrative director of Sign Users Council of California, estimated that it would cost $5.1 million to remove and replace signs not conforming to the proposed Encino ordinance.

“The city staff made a unilateral decision on the height of signs and how many are allowed,” he said.

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Keenan said businesses also would be harmed by higher insurance costs brought on by an increased susceptibility of lower signs to vandalism.

He also characterized as undocumented a finding of the city planning staff that the present clutter of signs on Ventura Boulevard distracts motorists and hampers traffic safety.

The Encino homeowners group had threatened to oppose the sign ordinance after city planners and attorneys modified the proposal in August by removing a ban on construction of new billboards on the 3 1/2-mile stretch of Ventura Boulevard. The ban was eliminated from the proposal because the city attorney’s office interpreted a 1981 U.S. Supreme Court decision, which overturned parts of a San Diego sign ordinance, as precluding cities from forbidding the erection of billboards.

Ban Reinstated

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But the city attorney’s office reinstated the ban after concluding that the ordinance could be tailored to conform to the Supreme Court ruling by limiting it to commercial billboards. Exempted were non-commercial signs, such as those making political and public service announcements.

Homeowners groups in neighboring Sherman Oaks and Tarzana have supported the sign restrictions for Encino and say they are considering advocating similar restrictions on their sections of Ventura Boulevard.

The Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn. plans to ask council members in October for a stricter billboard ban than the one approved Thursday, according to Ola Kaufman, a member of the group.

“We’re coming up next,” she said.

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The full council must vote on any sign ordinance before it becomes law.


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