Council backs billboard ban

A divided Los Angeles City Council threw its support Wednesday behind a proposed two-year moratorium on electronic billboards drafted by state lawmakers from the L.A. area.

The council first passed its own ban on billboards in 2002 but has been struggling since then to enforce it. The proposed state ban would go into effect Jan. 1, a date that concerns some council members who fear that it could lead to an influx of new signs during the interim.

The legislation’s author, Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles), has argued a two-year ban is necessary to study whether the signs are safe. There are several federal studies underway, including one by the Federal Highway Administration measuring eye movements of motorists when confronted by the signs.

Four City Council members -- Richard Alarcon, Tony Cardenas, Bernard C. Parks and Ed Reyes -- said they could not support the bill because they were concerned a state moratorium would encroach on the city’s control over billboard rules.

Calling the bill “a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Alarcon said he was concerned there were no safeguards to prevent the state -- given its dire economic predicament -- from poaching money that the city might glean from digital billboard operators. Before the city put a temporary ban on billboard signs, officials collected a permit fee for each new billboard and inspection fees annually for each sign. Alarcon said that if the state seizes control, state officials could oversee the franchising of digital signs -- quashing potential opportunities for L.A. communities to negotiate directly with digital billboard companies for money to help their areas.


“This is just the first step in the state taking control of these signs and taking the opportunity to generate revenue away from us and putting it in the state coffers in the midst of the worst budget crisis in the state’s history,” Alarcon said.

Feuer said he was surprised by Alarcon’s comments and not certain what revenue the councilman was referring to.