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Anti-illegal billboard effort scores victories in Hollywood

Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich’s campaign against towering supergraphics has yielded several victories in sign-saturated Hollywood, with eight of the oversize images coming down in three weeks -- a major break from the stalemate of previous years.

Prosecutors announced Friday that two of Hollywood’s tallest and most controversial images, standing at an estimated 11 stories near Highland Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard, were being removed after the billboard company received a cease-and-desist letter.

Six other supergraphics have come down on Hollywood Boulevard, not far from the Kodak Theatre. In each case, prosecutors alleged that the signs were installed illegally.

William W. Carter, chief deputy for Trutanich, said 20 cease-and-desist letters have gone out over the last week, each of which gave companies three days to remove unpermitted signs.

Residents have complained about the proliferation of supergraphics for years, saying that sign companies have made millions of dollars as they ignored the ban on oversize, vinyl signs. The city has struggled to respond as companies repeatedly filed lawsuits challenging the ban.

Trutanich vowed to go on the offensive against those companies. Last month, a businessman spent the weekend in jail on more than $1-million bail after he was arrested for having an allegedly unpermitted eight-story supergraphic on Hollywood Boulevard. Kayvan Setareh, 49, had the sign removed but admitted no wrongdoing.

The latest development came Friday when CBS Outdoor sent a letter to city officials confirming that it will take down two advertisements from 1025 N. Highland Ave. That announcement was applauded by Robert Eicholz, a Hollywood resident who said that the signs were a blight on the neighborhood and highly dangerous.

Last fall, one of CBS Outdoor’s signs -- an advertisement for the Apple iPod -- was torn into two pieces on a windy day and crashed onto Highland Avenue. Part of the sign hit power lines on its way down, said Eicholz, who works in a nearby office building.

“If there were a pedestrian there, I’m sure they would have been hurt,” said Eicholz, who said he watched as the wind ripped the sign loose from the building. “And if it had fallen into traffic, you can imagine what would have happened.”

A spokeswoman for CBS Outdoor would not address questions about the safety of its signs or Trutanich’s larger campaign. But in a letter to the city, Laura Brill, an attorney for CBS Outdoor, said her client did not agree with the premise of Trutanich’s cease-and-desist letter, which called the signs illegal.

Brill also said her client is trying to negotiate a sign relocation agreement with the Community Redevelopment Agency, one that would deliver “substantial benefits” to the city.

Trutanich’s campaign has resulted in the removal of smaller signs as well. Two weeks ago, the company known as Fuel Outdoor informed the city’s lawyers that it would remove hundreds of smaller poster-sized signs.

Carter said city inspectors concluded that Fuel Outdoor had installed between 400 and 500 images without the city’s permission. The company, previously known as Metro Lights, had argued in court that the city could not seek the removal of its signs while at the same time selling advertising space on city-owned bus benches.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the city in January, saying the sign law did not violate the company’s 1st Amendment right to free speech. An attorney for Fuel Outdoor did not respond to calls seeking comment.

Although the city attorney’s aggressiveness has drawn praise from some neighborhood groups, his tactics have also been greeted with criticism.

In the case of the eight-story supergraphic on Hollywood Boulevard, Setareh’s lawyer accused Trutanich’s office of misleading a judge about the notification received by his client. He also described prosecutors’ tactics as heavy-handed and “extortionist.”

Some bloggers and legal experts have called the city’s top lawyer a bully in his handling of the issue.

One anti-billboard activist disagreed. “By common definition, a bully is someone who picks on someone who is weaker than themselves,” said Dennis Hathaway, president of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight. “This industry, the supergraphic industry, has got deep pockets.”

david.zahniser@latimes.com


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