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Leave L.A.'s lampposts alone

In 1999, ABC-TV launched an advertising campaign for its fall season featuring striking yellow-and-black canvas banners hanging from city lamp poles and lining major city streets — including one across the street from CBS Studios in Studio City. Lampposts were becoming an increasingly common venue for commercial advertising at the time, and until CBS complained that it didn’t have equal access to city property, other commercial ventures, such as the Dodgers and the Lakers, launched banner campaigns.

It wasn’t legal, but City Hall had gotten sloppy with its permitting and enforcement of the banner program, which as in most other cities exists to promote neighborhoods, city-sponsored events and nonprofit cultural attractions such as museums. City light poles were never intended to be turned into commercial billboards, and if they were, there would no doubt be disputes over who gets the best streets, and for how long, to advertise their products and services.

Things tightened up for a while, but Los Angeles is again pushing the envelope, by allowing banner promotions for films and, now, for block after block along Wilshire Boulevard east of Westwood and along Olympic Boulevard (including residential stretches) east of Century City, the Cirque du Soleil production of “Iris” at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood. City officials claim that the Cirque production is technically nonprofit and therefore qualifies under the city ordinance. Now, really.

DISCUSS: Where’s the line between raising as much cash as possible and presenting a decent cityscape not overly junked up by even more advertising?

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The city is in some difficult financial straits, and officials are studying in earnest whether to raise revenue by selling advertising space on banners hanging from Los Angeles’ streetlamps. A spokesman for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said his office is in an early phase and has reached no conclusions; City Councilman Jose Huizar has a motion in to study the question and is waiting for completion of a staff report.

L.A. officials do deserve some credit for recognizing the desperate need for revenue and examining potential new sources. They already raise some money by contracting out bus benches and shelters to advertisers, so would it really be such a big deal to line city streets with light pole commercial advertising?

Actually, yes, it would. The bus bench ads pay for the benches, so they arguably add an amenity without overly saturating the city with crass commercial messages. But light poles are fundamental fixtures of the city. Decorations on them can be exciting, and they give neighborhoods an opportunity to express a sense of place or worthy nonprofit productions or exhibits an affordable way to reach audiences. But no major city turns their light or utility poles into commercial billboards, and for good reason: The streets, the sidewalks and the light posts belong to the public, which pays for them and ought to be able to walk, ride or drive down the streets without being hounded by commercial messages.


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