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Crackdown on Illegal Signs Sought

Times Staff Writer

Real-estate advertisements, movie release posters, fliers for garage sales and announcements of lost pets all would lose their space on utility poles and other public property under a crackdown proposed by a Los Angeles city councilman.

Councilman Greig Smith said he sees the proliferation of illegal signs as something like “broken windows syndrome,” in which small problems lead to larger crimes."It eventually leads to blight,” Smith said.

Bill Robertson, Bureau of Street Services director, estimated there were 500,000 illegal signs posted on utility poles, trees, fire hydrants and traffic signals throughout the city.

Most of the illegal signs come from the record and entertainment industry, with culprits hanging signs late at night and sometimes disguising themselves in official-looking vehicles with flashing roof lights, Smith said.

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Robertson said there are only four inspectors for all of Los Angeles to enforce the city law that nothing be tacked onto public property. Those who are caught placing signs -- mostly tracked down by their phone number or a company name on the posting -- are fined $194 for the first offense and $6.25 for each additional sign.

“It is much cheaper for [the advertisers] to pay a small fee to have the sign removed than to have a full-scale advertisement,” Robertson said.

Smith said he may favor increasing the fines once research has established the full cost of better enforcing the law.

While the city will concentrate on commercial signs, Smith said, he hopes people will stop putting up advertisements for events such as garage sales.

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The councilman announced his motion to study an enforcement crackdown in front of a large pile of illegal signs his staff had removed from electricity poles and trees in Northridge and Chatsworth. Among the signs were advertisements for used cars, houses and diet pills. Also included were fliers about a lost dog, a posting for a basketball team tryout and many signs for yard sales.

“I understand people who have a yard sale and put signs up about it,” Smith said. “I’d just want them to go clean the signs up at night -- that’s just how to be a good citizen.”

Robertson acknowledged that some illegal signs are put up by political candidates, while others direct actors to movie sets.

“We may allow them to put up signs for a couple of hours during the day, and then have them take [the signs] down,” he said.

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Charles Church, president of the community group West Valley Alliance, said he has worked for years to get the city to manage illegal signage.

“People put signs up and they don’t take them down, like they think it is some inherent right,” Church said. “And I don’t know how to solve that problem.”


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