Los Angeles escalates supergraphics fight

Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich intensified his crackdown on illegal billboards, securing arrest warrants against four people accused of putting up supergraphics without permits, according to court records reviewed by The Times on Wednesday.

Prosecutors declined to discuss the case, but the arrest warrants accuse the four defendants of misdemeanor counts of violating the city’s municipal code, including a ban on the installation of new supergraphics. An attorney for one of the men disputed the charges and said his client would fight the accusations.

The move comes several days after the jailing of a Pacific Palisades man on $1-million bail over a contested eight-story sign on Hollywood Bouelvard.

Both cases appear to involve signs erected at the bustling corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue. The signs are down the street from the Kodak Theatre, which is busily being prepped for the Academy Awards on Sunday.

Trutanich promised in last year’s election campaign that he would crack down on unpermitted signs, responding to complaints from neighborhood groups that had accused the city of being impotent in the face of the outdoor advertising industry. Critics say the huge signs are a visual blight and may distract drivers.

In the new case, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mildred Escobedo issued an arrest warrant for $250,000 bail for Mazen I. Nazzal, 65, of Los Angeles. Warrants for $100,000 bail each were issued for three others: Alexander Patrick Kouba, France Luanghy and Thomas Edward Curtin.

Trutanich also secured misdemeanor criminal warrants against four companies, including Yorkbury Investments and Yorkwood.

The warrants did not state the locations of the signs involved. But Yorkbury and Yorkwood are listed in tax records as the owners of a building at 6800 Hollywood Blvd., where three Asics sportswear supergraphics have been installed.

Nazzal is identified in Los Angeles Building and Safety Department records as the contact for 6800 Hollywood, which is at the southwest corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue.

Steve Madison, an attorney who represents Kouba, said his client would contest the charges and has agreed to turn himself in. Madison also said signs had been on the building at 6800 Hollywood Blvd. for years and had received inspections from the city Fire Department and a structural engineer.

Madison also said the city had filed a case concerning supergraphics at 6800 Hollywood three years ago. But he claimed the city attorney’s office had delayed resolution of the case because of uncertainty over the billboard ordinance.

A call to Nazzal’s home was not returned.

A lobbyist who represented Yorkbury over the last decade also had no comment. Luanghy and Curtin could not be reached for comment.

Besides Yorkbury and Yorkwood, the city attorney also obtained warrants against Community Redevelopment Assn., a private company, and Hangtime Installers Inc. Community Redevelopment filed a suit last year seeking to strike down a 2008 city moratorium on new supergraphics, saying it had been denied a permit to place a sign at 6800 Hollywood. An attorney who represented the company in that case declined to comment Wednesday.

A federal judge ultimately sided with the city in that case.

The 6800 Hollywood building is across the street from the site where an eight-story supergraphic for the movie “How to Train Your Dragon” went up last week. That building’s owner, Kayvan Setareh, was arrested last week on $1-million bail and released on a lower bail amount after he agreed to take down the sign. Setareh has admitted no wrongdoing and is scheduled to enter a plea March 30.

Setareh’s lawyer, Andrew M. Stein, complained that his client received an initial bail amount that was out of proportion to the offense. The original $1-million bail amount was more appropriate for murder and rape cases, he said.

Prosecutors disagreed, saying the judge set the bail high because the eight-story supergraphic posed a danger to the public because it was installed without any inspections by building officials to determine if it was properly attached.

The supergraphics on 6800 Hollywood are considerably smaller than the “How to Train Your Dragon” sign, rising only one story.

Times staff writers Phil Willon and Andrew Blankstein contributed to this report.