Digital billboards resurface in fight over visual blight

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Digital billboards along the freeway. Image courtesy Digital Outdoor Advertising Network

What would these new billboard regulations do?

Current digital signage rules permit digital signs to be displayed in specific districts, like L.A. Live, Sunset Boulevard and Hollywood. This has the support of 23 neighborhood councils and the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight, a group that’s been fighting the spread of digital billboards for a long time.

There’s another version which was drawn up by the PLUM (Planning and Land Use Management) Committee of the L.A. City Council in 2017 and that would allow digital signs on almost any commercial lot anywhere in the city (pursuant to community approval).

Signage companies would like to see this expansion and it was discussed at the PLUM Committee on Tuesday. Opponents of digital billboards are dead set against this expansion.

“Digital billboards are a blight on the environment plainly spoken. They distract drivers and they contribute to car accidents. Nobody wants to live near one. Then they reduce the property values in the area where they're located,” said Patrick Frank, current president of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight. “We want our city to look great and if digital billboards start to spread around, the city won’t look great.”

Frank doesn’t like billboards generally, but it’s the digital ones he’s fighting against.

So what happened at Tuesday’s meeting?

Committee members Tuesday asked if there might be a middle ground, between allowing digital signs in major “regional centers” versus all commercial zones.

That would be a compromise solution which the digital billboards opponents are likely to oppose.

They also want clarity regarding murals or hand-painted signs that contain advertising. The current Fine Arts Mural Ordinance restricts any form of advertising or sponsorship notice.

They also asked for a definition of “billboard blight,” a hard one to answer since it is in the eye of the beholder.

There’s also the possibility for neighborhoods to opt out. That likely means the more affluent areas will opt out, and the billboard companies don’t want that.

The PLUM committee requested staff to report back in mid-August with answers to these questions, at which point deliberations might be postponed again or they might commission the drafting of a new version of the legislation.