Residents take stock of billboards
On a sunny morning when many Angelenos flocked to parks and beaches, Judy Riha hit a busy, noisy commercial stretch of La Cienega Boulevard on a hunt for illegal billboards.
She stopped every few feet Saturday -- nine times within a two-block stretch -- to count and take note of ads large and small selling cigarettes, energy drinks, movies and retirement plans.
“They’re holding the city hostage,” she said, pointing to the ads, at the start of the 2 1/2 -mile stretch she was assigned to canvass as part of a neighborhood plan to curb the growing number of signs popping up in City Council District 10. The district includes Wilshire Vista, Mid-City and South Robertson.
The move comes as the city tries to grapple with complaints from residents and a host of legal challenges brought by billboard companies.
A three-month sign moratorium took effect Dec. 26 to give the city time to draft new laws regulating their quantity, size, location and brightness. A two-year statewide moratorium targeting electronic billboards was proposed Friday in Sacramento.
In Los Angeles, signs without permits have continued to sprout despite the local ban, according to city lawyers.
Some billboard companies have argued that the city is violating their 1st Amendment right to free speech and favoring some companies over others. One state legislator worries that limiting electronic billboards could worsen an already sagging economy.
The issue has turned residents like Riha, who works in the entertainment industry, into watchdogs as they fan out across corridors, creating a record of signs they see on poles, storefronts and high-rises.
With a clipboard in hand, she set out with about 20 residents to take inventory of billboards along Pico and Wilshire boulevards and other strips. They wrote down sizes, addresses and identification numbers to submit to the city at the end of the month.
“We’re stepping out -- some with their partners, some with strollers -- and making a day out of it,” she said, standing on the corner of Venice Boulevard and La Cienega with a 360-degree view of eight billboards, some digitized. “People like us are going to save this city.”
The event was organized by the Pico Neighborhood Council and the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight.
“We want the city to compare what we found against their database and figure out which ones are illegal,” said Josh Pretsky, a resident of Faircrest Heights and coordinator of the event.
He said he expected residents to find about 600 signs. It is unclear how many are illegal. In a separate inventory in Council District 11 late last year, residents counted nearly 500 signs in areas including Brentwood and Pacific Palisades.
A 35-year resident of the Fairfax area, Ron Smith, 69, decided to get involved.
“I’ve started noticing more and more signs as I’m driving,” he said. “It can be blinding sometimes.”