Council panel clears way for new billboard

Times Staff Writer

A key committee of the Los Angeles City Council moved ahead Tuesday with a plan to place a digital billboard on land owned by a labor union along the 110 Freeway with some of the proceeds going to nearby schools.

Councilman Ed Reyes, chairman of the council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee, called for a portion of the new sign’s revenue to go to the Miguel Contreras Learning Complex, a nearby high school, and possibly other community programs.

Reyes said he also hoped Plumbers Union Local 78, which owns the freeway-adjacent site in downtown Los Angeles, would win approval for the two-sided billboard by the end of the summer.


“The sooner the better, in my book,” said Reyes, who represents neighborhoods immediately west of the freeway. “That means we get more resources into the community.”

The proposed billboard is one of several in the works in Koreatown, Hollywood and downtown, despite a 6-year-old ban on new outdoor advertising. Two months ago, the council approved two double-faced billboards next to the 10 Freeway, part of a complex effort to create a new park in South Los Angeles.

What sets the latest proposal apart is that it has strong support from Maria Elena Durazo, head of the powerful Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which plays a major role in city elections. Durazo, who is Contreras’ widow, sent a letter to Reyes’ committee urging it to approve the plan, saying the billboard would help pay for “critical programs for families and children.”

“In light of the looming budget cuts at all levels of government, these services and unique funding sources become even more critical,” she wrote.

Contreras was executive secretary-treasurer of the Federation of Labor until his death in 2005. Durazo now holds that position.

Tony Perez, a spokesman for Reyes, said he did not know how much money would be generated by the billboard, which would be on James M. Wood Boulevard -- a section of 9th Street named after another well-known labor leader. Mary Gutierrez, a spokeswoman for the county Federation of Labor, did not return telephone calls.


An official with one anti-billboard group called the proposal a “cheap sellout,” saying the city should not allow digital signs to be used as a bargaining chip when looking to pay for neighborhood programs.

“There’s no justification for these high-intensity, back-lit, brightly lighted billboards, regardless of what the leverage is,” said Gerald Silver, vice president of Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight.

“What the billboard companies are doing is throwing a bone or a crumb to the city in order to induce them to go along with the billboards,” he added.