Official Admits Obscuring Risque Billboard
More than a few motorists have done double takes and clucked their tongues at those sexually suggestive signs popping up across town announcing Los Angeles’ newest sports franchise.
But Azusa City Manager Rick Cole decided to do something about them. And now the public official is being investigated on suspicion of criminal vandalism for what he says was an act of conscience.
The object of Cole’s protest was a billboard towering over Azusa Avenue that said: “On Sunday April 9th, Six Beautiful Women Will Show You Their Panties.” It was part of a teaser outdoor advertising campaign announcing the debut of the Los Angeles Avengers, the new arena football team.
Cole, however, said he was so outraged by the sign that he doused the last two words in black paint on Feb. 20.
“It is no secret I found [the billboard], a block from a city playground, offensive to me and the families of Azusa,” said Cole, a former mayor of Pasadena. “I took action to address that concern. Of course, I accept fully responsibility or any consequences.”
Cole acknowledged he used a municipal “cherry picker” truck to perform what he calls “the action” on a Sunday afternoon.
He did it with the aid of several residents in a city where social conservatives have flexed enough political muscle to vote down a planned casino and pressured the local cable franchise to block out the Playboy Channel.
Sports Illustrated noted that the saucy billboard had been defaced by someone in the east San Gabriel Valley city of 45,000. Cole’s own cops--the Azusa Police Department--turned him in to prosecutors.
The district attorney’s office is taking the charges seriously, said spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons.
And now Cole says that although he acted on his conscience as a father and a citizen, he has regrets. “I did not think through the ramifications of a city manager doing this,” he said.
The billboard in question is just one of 1,400 black-and-white advertisements sprinkled throughout the area by the Avengers. Team spokesman John Tamahana said they are part of an edgy campaign leading to the team’s debut game in Staples Center in early April.
The ads sound like something from an Austin Powers movie. One, for instance, says “On April 9th, Twelve Men Will Go Both Ways”--meaning, Tamahana said, they will play both offense and defense. He added that the one that mentioned panties was a reference to Avenger cheerleaders.
He acknowledged that the ads are controversial, but said that the team was disgusted by Cole’s action.
“We would like to express our extreme disappointment regarding the actions of a veteran politician,” he said. “Anyone who knowingly commits a crime should be held accountable, but the Avengers aren’t about to bring the charges.
“We changed billboards in Hawthorne and Venice after complaints. Mr. Cole knew what the channels were because he contacted [us]. But before that he decided to commit an act of vandalism.”
The day after he wielded his paintbrush, Cole called the billboard’s owner and persuaded the owner to remove the altered ad and another nearby sign alluding to a sexual act.
Azusa’s council members are supporting Cole. One says he was among those standing by the cherry picker, cheering Cole on.
“I was standing right there with Rick then and I’ll stand by him now. I’m proud of him,” said Councilman Dick Stanford. “This is a city of families and churches. We were acting on principle. . . . The D.A. should be capturing corrupt cops in L.A., not chasing a good city manager.”
Stanford added that Los Angeles doesn’t need a sports franchise that acts irresponsibly with smutty billboards. The Avengers are owned by Casey Wasserman, grandson of former MCA/Universal chief Lew Wasserman.
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