Council Bans New Billboards Citywide


The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to ban all new billboards inside the city limits and rejected an industry-backed proposal that would have permitted companies to build new signs along area freeways in exchange for tearing others down.

“Let’s make it clear: Today, we ... buried new billboards ever going up in the city of Los Angeles,” said Councilman Jack Weiss. “We’re asking two fundamental questions. No. 1: Can’t this city have a little class, just a little bit of class? And No. 2: Can’t this council have a little bit of backbone? ... We are answering both in the affirmative.”

In banning new billboards, Los Angeles joins at least 1,000 communities and six states across the nation that have restricted the outdoor signs despite opposition from the billboard industry, according to Scenic America, a conservation organization based in Washington, D.C. Elsewhere in California, such “visual blight” is restricted in Marin County, Monterey, Palm Springs, San Diego, San Jose, Santa Barbara and Santa Monica.


In Los Angeles, the debate over billboards often has had political and campaign finance overtones. The billboard industry has contributed to many campaigns by elected officials, and has used its advertising reach to advance causes and candidates it supports. In the most recent city elections, Rocky Delgadillo’s campaign for city attorney was touted with billboards, helping him to win a close race over City Councilman Michael Feuer.

Now the elected city attorney, Delgadillo has to enforce the city’s billboard rules.

Citizens who have followed the issue for years were thrilled by the quick vote Tuesday morning.

“This is joyful,” said Louise Frankel, who represents the Mountain Gate Community Assn.

Doris Isolini Nelson, a West Los Angeles resident, added that the growing number of billboards “creates an impression of clutter, visual clutter.”

Nelson said she was especially pleased that the council rejected a billboard industry proposal to take down one-fourth of the city’s 10,000 billboards in exchange for being able to erect 50 double-sided ads along the freeway.

“It’s very distracting for driving,” she said.

Billboard industry officials, however, said the city missed a chance to eliminate billboards with its vote Tuesday.

“We were trying to put a deal together that’s fair. I think in the long run, this was better than fair,” said Ken Spiker Jr., a lobbyist for several billboard companies.


“The city would have gotten more bang for its buck,” he said. “They made a big mistake passing up 2,500 billboards--one quarter of all billboards in the city. That’s just an incredible amount, but that’s gone.”

Even as the council approved the ban Tuesday, several members expressed concerns that the action would not go far enough to clean up their districts. “The ban of all new billboards does not address something we face in our communities, which is the enormous blight of legal billboards,” Councilwoman Janice Hahn said.

Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas agreed. “We’re doing only part of what, in my view, needs to be done,” he said.

Those council members and others said they hope that communities across Los Angeles will go further and negotiate reductions in billboards.

That idea will be addressed at a hearing today, when the council debates the creation of special signage districts that could regulate billboards within their borders.

Such districts could seek exemptions from the ban in places like the Sunset Strip in Hollywood, where gigantic billboards are believed to add to the entertainment atmosphere.


They could offer trades to billboard companies, such as offering a couple of new billboards in choice locations along a busy city street in exchange for the removal of dozens of signs in residential areas.

Even if the council agrees to allow such districts to be created, it will not settle the details today. First, local residents or local officials would propose their creation in various parts of the city and would recommend their boundaries.

After public meetings, community input and study, the final districts would have to be approved by the Planning Commission and City Council. “It’s not going to happen overnight,” Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski said.

Spiker said he hopes billboard companies can work with neighborhood groups.

“It’s way too early. I just don’t know,” he said. “If the billboard industry plays ball, we could have something.

If they turn around, take their marbles and leave, nothing was accomplished.”

Miscikowski added that the city’s approach to billboards has many facets.

The government recently launched an auditing system to discover illegal billboards, the city attorney’s office has pledged to pursue owners of illegal billboards, and city officials are working with state lawmakers to change a law that essentially makes illegal signs legal if they have been in place more than five years.

But “today was the most significant,” Miscikowski said. New “billboards are no longer going to be allowed in the city of Los Angeles.”