A push to outlaw banners towed by aircraft above county beaches took a nose dive Wednesday when a county committee doubted its authority to ban the ads and questioned whether there was much interest in the issue.
Three operators of sky advertising firms showed up for the committee's meeting in Manhattan Beach, outnumbering the two critics of the banners who attended.
"At this point, the committee would not be willing to take any position at all on this," said Norman Miller, chairman of the Beach Advisory Committee, which makes recommendations to the County Board of Supervisors. "We haven't seen much support for banning the ads, and the Board of Supervisors wouldn't touch this."
Jim Lissner, a Hermosa Beach sailor who brought the issue to the committee in June, pledged to lobby the city councils of Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach and Manhattan Beach to ban the aerial advertisements. He is convinced that most beach-goers consider the ads a nuisance.
"My impression is that the banner-towers are not popular at all," Lissner said. "I wouldn't pursue this if I didn't think there were a tremendous chance of doing something. I wouldn't want to ban the airplanes if everybody loved them."
Lissner complained to the committee that the stream of aircraft that advertise along the beaches causes noise and visual pollution. He said 57 banner ads passed by his home during one three-hour period on Labor Day last year.
Committee members had agreed to investigate the matter, but a staff report reviewed at this week's meeting said any regulation would be difficult to enforce and constitutionally questionable because it would restrict speech. If the county did ban the ads, the report said, the regulation would apply only to Topanga Beach because the rest of the shore is under the jurisdiction of local governments.
Beach Advisory Committee members will discuss the aerial ads again next month, but said the chances of regulating them are dim. The Federal Aviation Administration, which monitors the safety of all aircraft and requires planes to keep 500 feet from the coastline, has no plans to regulate the practice, either.
If banning the aircraft is not possible, Lissner said, he will seek regulations that would require the aircraft to double their minimum distance from shore to 1,000 feet. Industry representatives at the meeting said they would oppose such a change.
In an attempt to show that the aircraft present a safety hazard to beach-goers, Lissner presented the committee with a list of 11 Southern California accidents involving banner aircraft during the last decade. Lissner said he gathered the statistics from the National Transportation Safety Board. In addition, he said, he has used his computer database to collect news stories about such accidents that have occurred in other parts of the country.
Dennis Collins, a pilot for Aerial Enterprises in Chino, and the other company representatives at the meeting questioned the figures. They said they knew of no such incidents.
Douglas Stavoe, owner of Newport Beach-based Pacific Drifters, pointed out that aerial advertising is not the only source of noise and advertising along the beach. If Lissner's proposed policies were taken to the extreme, Stavoe said, the Goodyear blimp would have to be banned because of the noise it makes; other beach advertising would have to be removed, and The Strand would have to be closed to guard against accidents.
Stavoe said operators of aerial advertising businesses, which have formed an association to address complaints, are trying to work within the industry to pressure companies that violate rules. He said such self-regulation among the seven full-time businesses and several other part-time fliers in Southern California is better than "putting a gun to someone's head."