Los Angeles files new suit over supergraphics

Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich launched a fresh assault against the outdoor advertising industry Tuesday, announcing the filing of a lawsuit alleging that supergraphics were unlawfully installed on 12 buildings throughout the city.

The nuisance-abatement suit contends that multistory vinyl ads were placed illegally on the Sherman Oaks Galleria, the Howard Hughes Center in Westchester and other buildings in North Hollywood, Sherman Oaks and elsewhere.

The case was the first filed against a sign company by Trutanich, who took office July 1 after promising during last year’s election campaign that he would crack down on unpermitted billboards. Neighborhood groups have complained in particular about supergraphics, saying companies have illegally covered several stories of buildings without facing any consequences.

“We anticipate that this will be the first of several criminal or civil enforcement actions of this nature,” Chief Assistant City Atty. Jeffrey Isaacs said.

The city has been on the defensive for years as it has sought to regulate such advertisements, with an estimated 30 lawsuits challenging its sign laws and billboard inspection fees. Trutanich said he intends to seek fines of up to $5,000 for every day that an illegal supergraphic is on a building. In cases in which a sign is illegally placed next to a freeway, he also intends to seek a $10,000 fine, plus $100 for each day the sign is up.

The city’s lawsuit names 27 defendants, including World Wide Rush, which already has a billboard case pending before the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The company is seeking to strike down the city’s ban on the installation of new supergraphics.

Gary Mobley, the attorney for World Wide Rush, said he believes the city’s suit violates a federal injunction barring Los Angeles from seeking the removal of nearly two dozen of his client’s supergraphics. Ten of the 12 locations named in this week’s lawsuit were included in a 2008 order issued by U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins, Mobley said.

“It appears that the city is setting up a major confrontation with Judge Collins on respecting her permanent injunction,” he said.

Mobley went to court last week demanding that Collins hold the city in contempt for continuing to pursue a separate criminal case against World Wide Rush over a sign near the 10 Freeway at the corner of National and Westwood boulevards. That case was filed when City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo was in office.

World Wide Rush urged the court to impose a $100,000 fine against the city, plus $10,000 for each day that Trutanich fails to drop the older case. The sign company also called for Collins to hold the city in criminal contempt and to order Trutanich, the L.A. City Council and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa into federal custody.

Isaacs said the latest lawsuit does not conflict with Collins’ order because the supergraphics were installed after the city approved new ordinances governing outdoor advertising.

“We were very careful to avoid the use of any of the particular ordinances that Judge Collins found to be unconstitutional,” he added.

In the lawsuit, Trutanich said illegal supergraphics are a public nuisance, distracting motorists, adding to the city’s visual clutter and making it more difficult for firefighters to enter windows in the event of a fire or other emergency.

The lawsuit also said the unpermitted signs have given World Wide Rush and other supergraphics companies an unfair competitive advantage over sign companies that have obeyed the city’s laws.

In addition to the fines, Trutanich said he would ask the court to force World Wide Rush and other defendants to forfeit the gross revenue generated by the signs. Those proceeds could amount to “millions of dollars in monetary relief to the city,” an aide to Trutanich said.