A self-described “guerrilla artist” who for nearly two years has been plastering Los Angeles with political satire posters protesting George Bush, the Nicaraguan Contras and other figures has been told to cut it out.
Inspectors in the city’s Public Works Department on Thursday ordered Venice-based artist Robbie Conal to remove his posters from traffic switch boxes, bus shelters and other public property and to sign a pledge not to put up additional copies.
The instructions were issued during a 30-minute closed-door hearing while about 20 of Conal’s supporters crowded an outer office and grilled Public Works Department spokesmen on why Conal was being disciplined.
Conal said later that he will consult a lawyer next week about whether to obey the city’s orders.
He was evasive when asked whether he planned to paste up more posters--a mission the 42-year-old artist usually accomplishes during middle-of-the night forays with a handful of friends.
Department of Public Works officials said that if Conal refuses, they may ask the city attorney’s office to press charges. Posting signs on public property is a misdemeanor carrying a fine of up to $1,000, but few people have been prosecuted.
“I don’t feel I’ve broken any of the higher laws or principles on which our democracy is founded,” Conal said. “I apologize to the city workers I’ve inconvenienced and to the citizens whose sensibilities I’ve offended.”
It was the second time in just two weeks that the city has cracked down on someone who puts up posters illegally.
On Oct. 6, Hollywood poster distributor Chris Spanos, who tacked up thousands of posters encouraging people to vote, was ordered to a similar hearing. He agreed to remove his signs.
Officials said the actions taken against Conal and Spanos are part of a citywide campaign to clean up Los Angeles by ridding it of graffiti, trash, thousands of illegal signs and other clutter. The City Council allotted $125,000 in August for sign-removal street crews as part of the effort, chief street-use Inspector James E. Washington said.
‘A Problem for Us’
“These signs are a problem for us,” said department spokesman Chuck Ellis, explaining that removal is costly, homeowners and merchants complain that the posters deface public and private property, and utility workers have been injured climbing sign-cluttered poles.
Officials maintain that it is often difficult, however, to track down poster-plasterers--even though many posters include telephone numbers and addresses of the people or causes they promote, which range from anti-Khomeini rallies to rock concerts and movies.
Ten hearings for sign-ordinance violators have been held this year, Ellis said.
Conal and Spanos were called in, officials acknowledge, in part because they were especially prolific and because of publicity the two men have received.
“It’s like being in an elevator with Daryl Gates and bragging about the perfect 7-Eleven robbery,” Ellis said. “It’s not the smartest thing for someone operating outside of the law to do.”
Conal, who estimates he has thousands of posters pasted throughout Los Angeles and a dozen other cities throughout the country, said it was an “unfortunate coincidence” that he was called to a hearing less than three weeks before a national election.
Conal’s most recent poster, which he unveiled during the Republican Convention in New Orleans, shows presidential candidate Bush and the slogan, “It can’t happen here,” with the word “here” stamped across a vacant forehead.
Officials denied repeatedly that there was any political motive behind the timing.
“The signs contribute to visual pollution,” Inspector Bill White said after Conal’s hearing. “We are removing all kinds of signs. Garage sales, lost pets. . . . There’s nothing selective about this.”