Big Sign Firm Accused of Corruption

Times Staff Writer

In the quiet of New Year’s Eve morning on the Sunset Strip, hours before partygoers celebrated the arrival of 2005, Brian Kennedy tried to give himself a present -- a new billboard that could bring him a million dollars a year.

It didn’t matter that he had no permit. Kennedy had gotten his start in the sign business many years earlier by going out at night and pasting movie posters on construction fences without permission.

The scofflaw approach seemed to suit him. He could build his 40-foot billboard now and let the city of West Hollywood take him to court later while he raked in profits.


Kennedy picked a day when City Hall was closed. He had canvas draped over a see-through fence to mask what he was doing.

He might have gotten away with it if Joan English, a deputy city manager, hadn’t driven by the lot Kennedy owned at Sunset Boulevard and Queens Road. English could see the top of a crane lifting a billboard pole into place.

She got out of her car and peeled back the canvas to see a sopping-wet Brian Kennedy directing workers in the rain.

“I said, ‘Brian, what are you doing?’ ”

First, Kennedy claimed he had a permit, she said. Then he said he didn’t need one because West Hollywood’s restrictions on billboards were unconstitutional.

Kennedy and his brother, Drake, co-own Regency Outdoor Advertising, the largest family-owned billboard company in Southern California, worth an estimated half a billion dollars.

The brothers have bulled their way to success, letting little stand in their way. They have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to causes of politicians who control where signs can be placed. They have filed lawsuit after lawsuit asserting 1st Amendment rights to bombard motorists with slogans.


And, according to sworn statements in lawsuits by a former Regency executive and an attorney who represented the firm, the Kennedy brothers have paid off politicians, bribed the Caltrans billboard inspector for Los Angeles and Orange counties and even poisoned palm trees obstructing some of their most lucrative signs outside Los Angeles International Airport.

On the Sunset Strip that rainy morning, Kennedy was unmoved by English’s demand that he and his crew stop work.

“It became obvious they weren’t going to listen to me,” English recalled, so she called the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department. Only when three deputies arrived and threatened them with arrest did Kennedy and his crew relent, according to the city attorney.

Nearly a year later, the billboard pole English saw being lowered into place is still standing. The fight has shifted to courtrooms. Kennedy faces trial on a misdemeanor charge of trying to erect a billboard without a permit. He is also suing the city, alleging that it violated his civil rights.

The Kennedy brothers declined to be interviewed for this article. In a letter, Brian Kennedy asserted that he and his brother “categorically deny any wrongdoing or the bribing of public officials, or civil servants, in order to obtain favorable treatment. That said,” the letter continued, “we can say that the outdoor advertising industry is heavily regulated and that, as a result, we work closely with government officials and civil servants at all levels.”

The Lords

of the Sunset Strip

The Kennedys work out of headquarters without a sign, across from Tower Records in the heart of the Sunset Strip.

In the world of outdoor advertising, the Sunset Strip is a prime showcase, in a league with New York’s Time Square and Tokyo’s Ginza district. Billboards and ads on the sides of buildings are so much a part of the Strip’s visual distinctiveness that six years ago, the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce started awards for the best billboards and “tall walls” signs.

Regency, which owns more billboards on the Strip than any of its competitors, has won its share of honors.

The company does not have the reach of Viacom or Clear Channel, publicly traded giants that reportedly lease about 5,000 billboards each in the Los Angeles area. But Regency’s inventory of 500 sign faces is seen by some as the most valuable, sign for sign, in Southern California.

Brian Gurnee, who once ran part of Regency’s sales team and is suing the firm in a financial dispute, estimates that the Kennedy brothers, with their high concentration of valuable freeway and Sunset Strip signs, net tens of millions of dollars a year. A full-size billboard costs $40,000 to $100,000 to build but, in the right location, can pay for itself in a month. Regency asks advertisers for $3,000 to $80,000 a month, depending on the exclusivity of the neighborhood and how many motorists pass by.

Brian Kennedy, 64, is the firm’s public face. A robust man with a hail-fellow-well-met manner, he is in charge of selling billboard space to advertisers and securing sign locations along the Strip. Drake Kennedy, 62, is the behind-the-scenes brother. Slightly built, with eyeglasses so large they resemble small windshields, he is in charge of arranging locations and permits everywhere but the Strip.

The brothers grew up in San Gabriel, immersed in the billboard business and in local politics. Their father, George, owned a small billboard company, Kennedy Outdoor Advertising, and later sat on the commission overseeing the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Their mother, Helen, served for 17 years as a councilwoman or mayor in San Gabriel.

Both brothers attended USC. Drake has said he dropped out to help his ailing father sell his sign business. Brian graduated and has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Trojan football. The defending national champions practice on Brian Kennedy Football Field.

The brothers are famous in their industry for combativeness. Employees once made light of their penchant for litigation with a gag voicemail message prepared for a Regency Christmas party. It invited callers to “press one” if Regency was suing them, “two” if they were suing Regency, and so on, concluding: “If you have never been involved in any litigation with Regency Outdoor Advertising and do not anticipate any action in the future, please check the number you are calling and dial again.”

In building and defending what they regard as their billboard “boutique,” the Kennedy brothers relied heavily on J. Keith Stephens, for years Drake Kennedy’s right-hand man, and Paul E. Fisher, Regency’s principal lawyer.

Stephens, 46, came to the firm after he built his own signs without permits. His job included overseeing Fisher, 45, Regency’s outside counsel and a 1st Amendment specialist who had convinced several courts that laws restricting billboards were unconstitutional limitations on free speech. Things went well for Stephens, Fisher and Regency for several years.

But in 2001, Regency lost two civil trials involving Regency signs. Drake Kennedy blamed Fisher and Stephens, telling Stephens in a letter that Fisher’s poor performance had cost the brothers millions. The Kennedys dismissed Fisher in early 2002 and sued him for malpractice in a case they dropped just as it was to go to trial. Fisher unsuccessfully countersued, claiming the Kennedys owed him money.

Soon after Fisher was fired, Stephens quit. He sued Regency after Drake Kennedy demanded that he turn over some of his own billboards to make up for Regency’s losses.

Regency quickly settled that case, agreeing to let Stephens keep his billboards. But an embittered Stephens has repeatedly sued Regency on other matters. One of his current suits alleges that Regency engaged in bribery and vandalism.

In interviews and in pretrial testimony taken in these legal battles, Stephens and Fisher told of alleged Regency bribery schemes and acknowledged their own roles in one of them.

The Kennedys, through spokesmen, asserted that Stephens and Fisher were con artists with records of making false statements under oath. Their bribery allegations, Regency contends, are part of an attempt “to extract financial settlements” from the firm.

A review of court documents shows that Fisher and Stephens have made contradictory statements about business dealings under oath. A civil court jury recently discounted their testimony and found that they were secret partners in a scheme to swindle a small rival firm out of some signs. Mitzi McCook, a billboard executive from yet another small firm and former friend of Stephens, also alleged improper conduct.

In a sworn declaration in 2003 to the State Bar, McCook said Stephens told her Fisher submitted inflated bills to Regency, which Stephens approved. In return, she said, Fisher did free legal work for Stephens.

McCook also said that Stephens told her that Brian and Drake Kennedy had engaged in “illegal activity” and that if need be, “he would use this information to put them in jail.”

Secret Financier

in Monterey Park

In Monterey Park, home to stretches of the 60 and the 710 freeways, billboard opponent Judy Chu remembers a war that Regency waged against her in the early 1990s over the city’s billboard ban.

Chu, now a state Assemblywoman, was then Monterey Park’s mayor and a member of its five-person City Council.

Regency was campaigning to get the council to lift the ban and allow it to build freeway signs.

The firm employed a veteran lobbyist, Robert Katherman. He began popping up at political and charitable functions offering large donations to council members’ favorite charities, Chu said.

“For me he said, ‘Oh. I could make a big donation to the Asian Youth Center,’ ” she said.

Chu, who regards billboards as an aesthetic “abomination,” said she was appalled by the way he attempted to curry favor. Katherman declined to comment. Her council colleagues supported lifting the ban.

When Chu countered by helping to organize a voter initiative to retain the ban, Regency launched a “campaign of terror” against her, she said.

It included an 18,000-piece barrage of political mail just before election day 1997, when both Chu and the billboard initiative were on the ballot.

One mailer sought to stir racial passions. The headline: “What’s Judy Chu’s Problem with Latinos?” The state Fair Political Practices Commission investigated and concluded in 2001 that Regency had secretly paid for most of the mailers. Drake Kennedy at first told a state investigator he didn’t know anything about the mailers, records show.

However, Katherman, others who worked on the mailers and eventually Regency itself provided records that showed Regency paid for them.

The commission fined Drake Kennedy $18,000 for illegally concealing his role.

Chu was reelected handily to city office despite the attacks and the billboard ban survived.

Alleged Bribes

in South El Monte

In nearby South El Monte, Drake Kennedy seemed to become fixated on erecting a billboard on the property of a man who didn’t want it.

To get his way, Kennedy allegedly bought control of the city government.

Sandy Bettelman’s family owns a three-acre miniature golf course whose green- and blue-carpeted holes are visible from the 60 Freeway, near the Peck Road exit.

Regency approached Bettelman in the late 1980s and again in the early 1990s, offering compensation if the family would allow a billboard on its land. Bettelman declined, explaining that he was concerned a billboard would draw attention from his own much smaller sign.

Kennedy would not take no for an answer.

In 1996, Regency persuaded the city to sue the Bettelman family for possession of a dirt road next to the golf course so that Regency could put a billboard there, court records show.

Kennedy testified that Regency paid about $50,000 on the lawsuit. The city lost when Superior Court Judge Irving Feffer ruled in 1998 that the Bettelmans owned the road; the city just had a right to maintain it. Kennedy sought city permission to build anyway, court records show. When a majority of the five City Council members balked, he allegedly decided that the two who were coming up for reelection had served long enough.

Stephens testified in one of the lawsuits he brought against Regency that Kennedy told him he secretly bankrolled the 1999 campaigns of challengers.

Al Perez and Raul Pardo were elected and joined holdover Mayor Art Olmos to form a pro-Regency majority. Neither man reported campaign contributions from Regency.

In February 2000, the council voted 3 to 2 to allow Regency to build its billboard on the road, despite a second ruling by Feffer that such approval would be “a legal impossibility.”

Regency agreed to pay the city $100,000 immediately and $20,000 a year for the sign.

In interviews, Olmos and Perez said they did not know about the judge’s rulings. “I would have never gone against the ruling of a judge,” Perez said.

City records show council members received written notice of one of the rulings as they prepared to vote on Regency’s request. William Vallejos, then city attorney, said in an interview that he also told council members about the ruling. Two members who opposed Regency, George Lujan and current Mayor Blanca Figueroa, backed Vallejos’ account.

Several months after the council vote, Regency built its sign.

Bettelman couldn’t believe it. “The judge told them they didn’t have the right to do it, and they did it anyway,” he said.

He sued Regency.

One of his lawyers, Frank Nemecek, posed a question to the jury: “How did they get the city to agree to something that a judge had said five months earlier that the city couldn’t do?”

Fisher, Regency’s lawyer in the case, provided a possible answer in depositions in the malpractice case Regency brought against him. Regency, he said, bribed the City Council.

Fisher testified that Stephens and Drake Kennedy told him Ernie Moreno was Regency’s bagman. A former legislative aide, Moreno was tried in the 1970s on federal perjury charges related to allegations that he’d taken payoffs for political favors. A jury could not reach a verdict and prosecutors dropped the case.

Fisher testified in his malpractice case that he once saw Drake Kennedy counting out stacks of $100 bills in Moreno’s presence.

He also testified that conversations with Moreno and Kennedy left him convinced that the money was going to members of the South El Monte City Council.

Drake Kennedy has testified Moreno was a Regency consultant who helped get government permission to build signs.

Olmos and Perez said in interviews that they are friends of Moreno’s. But both denied ever speaking with him about the Regency deal or taking money.

Pardo declined to be interviewed. Moreno did not respond to requests for comment.

In ruling against Regency in the Bettelman lawsuit in late 2001, Superior Court Judge John Shook found that the Kennedys had trespassed and asked the jury to decide how much Regency should pay. The jury awarded the family $1.5 million.

Regency took down its sign once its appeals were exhausted three years later.

Bettelman said his family spent $600,000 on litigation to fight the Kennedys.

“They thought we’d knuckle under,” he said. “They just hit the wrong person. How many people have the money to fight them?”

A Hardball Squeeze Play in Baldwin Park

City officials in Baldwin Park asked that question when Regency threatened them with a lawsuit. Ultimately, the city decided it did not have enough money to fight, and Regency’s billboards went up.

The dispute arose in 2000, when the firm asked the City Council for permission to build billboards along the 10 Freeway.

Regency had watched as the council allowed another firm to build signs along the 605 Freeway for fees of $50,000 per sign.

But even with Regency offering $100,000 per sign, it could not line up the necessary votes.

Finally, it seemed, the Kennedy brothers’ patience wore thin.

At dawn on the start of a long Fourth of July weekend in 2000, crews and cement mixers arrived at most spots Regency coveted and started erecting billboards without permission.

Baldwin Park Chief of Police Mark Kling, then a captain, recalled running into a cocky Stephens directing workers. Work stopped before the signs could be finished when authorities threatened arrests.

Stephens said in an interview that he then disclosed Regency’s strategy of spending the city into submission.

Stephens said he told City Atty. Arnold Alvarez-Glasman that Regency was prepared to spend half a million dollars on legal fees to attack the city’s sign law as unconstitutional. In a longshot bid for financial help, the cash-strapped city turned to its legal insurance carrier, the Independent Cities Risk Management Authority, which was designed to help cities defend against conventional lawsuits, not constitutional claims.

The city’s request for help put Regency’s lobbyist, Ken Spiker Jr., in an awkward spot. Spiker stood to make $100,000 for every sign Regency won in Baldwin Park. His firm also made hundreds of thousands of dollars administering the risk management authority. If the authority helped the city fight Regency, he could be harming himself.

Spiker fired off a letter to the city saying he had nothing to do with Regency’s decisions to build and to sue.

Regency’s Stephens, however, testified in one of his lawsuits against the firm that Spiker told him he would work against Baldwin Park’s interests.

Stephens testified that Spiker and an associate, David Neal Smith, told him they would see that the risk management authority denied Baldwin Park’s bid for insurance coverage.

Spiker and Smith denied the allegations through their lawyers, and the insurer’s general counsel, J. Kenneth Brown, said Baldwin Park’s claim was denied routinely, with no pressure from Spiker or Smith.

There is no evidence to contradict them, but there is evidence that Spiker bragged he had the city over a barrel.

However, another billboard firm owner, Mark Kudler, said in a lawsuit against Spiker that Spiker told him he was involved in an effort to threaten Baldwin Park financially to force the city to cave in.

In any event, the city capitulated after its claim was denied.

Alvarez-Glasman, the city attorney, said the council directed him to negotiate with Regency rather than fight.

Baldwin Park gave Regency permission for six signs -- one more than it originally requested -- as part of a deal in which Regency increased its promised contribution to youth services.

Spiker and Smith also worked for Regency in Lynwood, to which Regency agreed to pay $5 million for permission to build billboards along the 105 Freeway.

The signs never went up because enemies of then-Mayor Paul Richards canceled the deal. City Council and other records show that Richards and his allies arranged to divert $1 million of the fee to a company owned by the mayor’s sister.

Richards is on trial in federal court for this and other alleged acts of political corruption.

Smith pleaded guilty in August to a charge of giving a $7,500 “illegal gratuity” to Richards for backing the Regency deal.

Smith also testified at Richards’ trial that Regency agreed to pay the Spiker firm $25,000 in “consulting fees” that would actually be used to support Richards’ reelection campaign.

Neither Spiker nor Regency has been charged.

When Trees

Got in the Way

In 2000, with the Democratic National Convention slated for Los Angeles, the city planted 160 Canary Island palms on city property along the Century Boulevard approach to LAX to impress conventioneers. The trees cost $10,000 apiece.

For Regency, the beautification program was a problem. It blocked sight lines to valuable signs. Regency, represented by Fisher, sued the city, seeking $18 million in damages.

Superior Court Judge Jean Matusinka ruled in 2002 that under California law, Regency could not collect for “loss of visibility.”

Soon after, two of the trees blocking Regency signs died.

Airport landscapers called in Donald Hodel, a palm tree specialist from the University of California Cooperative Extension. He couldn’t figure out what caused the deaths. He said it might be Fusarium wilt, a fatal disease affecting some other palms in the area. But a lab test by a plant pathologist found no evidence of the disease.

Stephens provided another explanation last year when he testified in a deposition in a lawsuit he brought against Regency. He testified that Brian and Drake Kennedy each told him Regency was responsible for poisoning the trees.

“Drake ... was really proud of the fact,” Stephens testified.

Pathologist Paul Santos said in an interview that the tests he did would not detect poison.

Regency, meanwhile, appealed the trial court decision but offered to drop its appeal if the city would allow it to replace many remaining palms with smaller trees.

It was up to the Airport Commission to accept or reject Regency’s offer. Two members appointed by then-Mayor James K. Hahn -- Peter Weil, a real estate lawyer, and commission president Ted Stein, a lawyer-developer -- saw no reason to settle, Weil said. After all, the city had won at trial.

Their stance left Brian Kennedy fuming, according to two people close to Hahn who asked not to be identified. The Kennedys had provided $260,000 worth of billboard space in 2001 to help Hahn get elected.

They had also given $125,000 in billboard advertising to help the election campaign of City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo.

Kennedy personally negotiated with the city attorney’s office, which had won the case against Regency at trial. The city attorney’s office submitted four settlement proposals to the commission in 2003 and 2004.

City officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said only one commissioner privately pushed for a settlement -- the late labor leader Miguel Contreras. Campaign finance records show Regency had donated $31,000 in billboard space to promote Martin Ludlow, Contreras’ protege, in his successful 2003 run for a City Council seat.

Months after settlement efforts failed, a third palm tree died in front of the same Regency signs. Airport landscapers again sent samples to a lab, which again found no sign of disease.

A few months later, the state Court of Appeal ruled against Regency. The state Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case, and the city attorney’s office said it has reopened talks.

Regency has had problems with other city-owned trees at LAX. Coral trees next to the elevated extension of Century Boulevard had grown so tall by 2000 that they blocked views of a Regency billboard at the entrance to the airport.

In a 2003 memo to Stephens, apparently prepared as they sought to help each other in litigation involving Regency, Fisher wrote that Drake Kennedy had told him he “had an employee who was taking a chain saw and destroying the coral trees.”

Two LAX landscape supervisors recalled in interviews that someone had repeatedly sawed part way through branches so they eventually fell off of their own weight. Over time, said supervisor Ed Manara, trees that once stood 35 to 40 feet tall were reduced to 5 feet in height.

The landscapers complained about the vandalism to airport police, whose reports estimated the damage at $100,000.

The culprit never was caught.

West Hollywood has had similar troubles figuring out who has illegally and often radically trimmed 43 of its trees along the Sunset Strip during the middle of the night in recent years.

Twenty-seven of the trees were in front of Regency signs. Two were palms that were decapitated and died.

Billboards, Public Toilets and the MTA

When it wasn’t trying to protect its own billboards from visual obstruction, Regency sometimes worked hard attacking competitors’ plans.

In one instance, Regency tried to keep a small Philadelphia company, Strategic Technologies International, from completing a multimillion-dollar deal with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for billboards on MTA rights of way along freeways.

It called upon Moreno, its alleged bagman in South El Monte, for an introduction to a legislator willing to help.

Drake Kennedy has testified that Moreno introduced him in 2001 to Richard Polanco, a Los Angeles Democrat who was then the state Senate majority leader and dean of the Latino Caucus.

Polanco agreed to carry a bill written by Regency that would require the MTA to get approval for its signs from local governments, some of which were hostile to more billboards.

Spiker, Regency’s lobbyist, helped line up the Independent Cities Assn., an alliance of small Southern California cities managed by his firm, to support the bill.

Polanco said his interest was in preserving local control.

At a hearing, Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Kevin Murray (D-Culver City) expressed skepticism about Regency’s motives.

“Why would a billboard company want to restrict the amount of billboards?” he asked.

The Regency lawyer who drafted the bill, Michael Tidus, answered that his client believed its competitors should have to jump through the same hoops it did. Regency, he added, believed in local control.

“You’re for good government, huh?” Murray asked.

“Yes,” Tidus said, smiling.

“I understand,” Murray said, chuckling.

With the support of municipalities, the bill sailed through the Legislature and was signed into law in 2001.

The new law killed the billboard deal and, with it, the MTA’s plans to use revenue from the signs to pay for the first public toilets at its subway and light rail stations so riders would not have to relieve themselves in “station elevators and planting areas,” as one MTA memo put it.

A few months after the bill passed, Drake Kennedy testified, Polanco contacted him. “I believe that we were requested to make out two checks to certain PAC [political action committee] groups,” Kennedy testified.

In late February 2002, records show, Regency gave $25,000 to the California Latino Alliance, which transferred $25,000 the next day to the Latino PAC, controlled by the Latino caucus of state legislators. In March, Regency gave another $25,000 directly to the Latino PAC.

At the time, the Latino PAC was waging a campaign against Democratic Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally, a political rival of Polanco’s.

Polanco did not respond to requests for comment.

Chicanery in

West Hollywood

In early February 2003, Steve Martin, then a West Hollywood city councilman, said he received a phone call from an old acquaintance who wanted to see him urgently.

Martin named the acquaintance privately but would identify him publicly only as a former city planning commissioner.

Martin said the man drove to his house and insisted that they go for a ride. As the man drove, he delivered what he said was a message from Brian Kennedy, Martin recalled.

Martin said he was told that Kennedy would pay him $10,000. All he had to do was vote against a Regency competitor’s request for city permission to maintain ads on the side of a building on Beverly Boulevard.

At the time, Martin was running for reelection and Brian Kennedy was supporting his opponents. Martin said he feared he was being set up.

A lawyer, he recounted the alleged bribe offer to three fellow city officials, one of whom reported it to the Sheriff’s Department. But when a detective interviewed him, Martin did not mention Kennedy and declined to identify the intermediary, records show. The investigation was dropped.

Kennedy prevailed in the wall ad controversy on a 3-2 council vote without Martin’s help. In the recent interview, Martin said he did not name the intermediary because he had no way to prove he had been offered a bribe. It would be his word against the other fellow’s.

But he said he had no doubt about what had happened.

“It was very clear,” he said. “I was being offered money for my vote.”

Inspector Accused

of Taking Bribes

A civil servant named Raj Champaneri is an influential figure in Regency’s world.

He is a billboard inspector for the California Department of Transportation, the only one for all of Los Angeles and Orange counties.

Fisher said in a recent interview that Champaneri approached him in the late 1990s and suggested he could use extra cash.

Fisher said he delivered Champaneri’s message to Stephens and Drake Kennedy. He testified in one of Stephens’ lawsuits against Regency that Champaneri complained to him some time later that his monthly bribe from Regency was late.

Stephens testified in the same lawsuit that he delivered bribes from Drake Kennedy to Champaneri three times. Stephens testified that on one occasion, he watched as Drake “counted out several thousand dollars, put it in an envelope” and gave it to him to deliver to the inspector.

This spring, at the imposing new Caltrans building downtown, Stephens and Champaneri came face to face in the hallway before a public hearing. Stephens was there to appeal a ruling the inspector had made against his company and in favor of Regency.

Stephens introduced Champaneri to a reporter as the inspector who was on the Regency payroll for $5,000 a month.

Asked whether the allegation was true, Champaneri turned and walked away. Pressed for a response, he glanced back and said, “Of course not.”

Stephens repeated the accusation while sitting across a table from Champaneri at the hearing.

Afterward, Caltrans asked the California Highway Patrol to investigate. Champaneri has been assigned to a desk job pending completion of the probe, a Caltrans spokesman said. Stephens said CHP officers accompanied by FBI agents and federal prosecutors recently interviewed him about this and other allegations.

To illustrate what he said were favors that Regency obtained from Champaneri, Stephens directed a reporter to two Regency billboards along the 10 Freeway in El Monte.

Champaneri and his Caltrans superiors permitted the billboards on the condition that they advertise only businesses in El Monte’s redevelopment area.

Regency has not complied. Stephens provided a copy of a letter he said he hand-delivered to Champaneri in 2003 telling him that the Regency signs were carrying ads for movies and a store out of town.

Champaneri took no action. A Caltrans spokesman said they found no such letter in their files.

Recently, the signs advertised a television show and new Cadillacs.

There are plenty of Cadillac dealerships in Southern California.

There are none in El Monte.



Regency’s reach

Government officials and former associates of Regency Outdoor Advertising, the largest family-owned billboard company in Southern California, have accused the firm of a variety of illegal activities, including building signs without permits, poisoning trees that obstructed views of some of its signs and secretly financing a smear campaign.

- Joan English, a West Hollywood city official, noticed Brian Kennedy putting up a billboard without a permit last New Year’s Eve morning and turned him in.

- Steve Martin, a former West Hollywood city councilman, says a former city planning commissioner offered him $10,000 in 2003 to vote the way Brian Kennedy wanted on a matter coming before the council.

- Donald Hodel, a palm tree specialist with the University of California Cooperation Extension, said the death of three Canary Island palms blocking Regency signs on Century Boulevard near LAX is a “perplexing and vexing case. ... It could possibly be Fusarium wilt,” he said, referring to a fatal palm disease in the area. “But

- Ed Manara, LAX landscape supervisor, said vandals repeatedly and radically cut back coral trees blocking sightlines to a Regency sign near the airport entrance. “I got so tired of it that we used to call airport police,” he said.

- David Neal Smith, an associate of lobbyist Ken Spiker Jr., has pleaded guilty to giving an “illegal gratuity” to former Lynwood Mayor Paul Richards to thank him for backing a Regency proposal to put billboards along the 105 Freeway.

- Judy Chu, now a state assemblywoman, was Monterey Park’s mayor in the 1990s and an opponent of a Regency billboard plan. Drake Kennedy secretly financed a smear campaign against her, according to the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

- Sandy Bettelman, whose family owns a miniature golf course along the 60 Freeway in South El Monte, told Regency he did not want one of its billboards on his property. Regency built one anyway.

- Ken Spiker Jr., whose firm provided management services for an alliance of small Southern California cities, represented Regency as a lobbyist in two of those cities, Baldwin Park and Lynwood.

Source: Times reporting



Among the players

Regency Outdoor Advertising owns billboards in some of the best locations in the L.A. area. The company has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to causes of politicians who control where signs can be placed.

To protect its interests, it has filed lawsuits asserting its 1st Amendment rights to bombard motorists with commercial slogans.

- Drake Kennedy secures most sign locations.

- Brian Kennedy mainly deals with advertisers.

- Richard Polanco carried a Regency bill.

- Paul E. Fisher was Regency’s chief lawyer.