Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Monday, December 22, 2008
The electronic billboard that shocked city of Pittsburgh politics this year isn't allowed, according to a split decision from the Zoning Board of Adjustment, and likely will lead to a court fight between the city and Louisiana-based sign giant Lamar Advertising.
Lamar's argument that it could trade six vinyl billboards for the right to put one, glowing, 19-foot-by-58-foot sign on the Grant Street Transportation Center, Downtown, didn't fly with Zoning Board member Alice Mitinger.
Her 17-page decision released yesterday found that the swap effort -- coupled with a permit received without hearings or votes, and a lease granted without any competition -- "can only be viewed as an effort to circumvent the [zoning] code's prohibition against advertising signs" Downtown.
She also rejected Lamar's request to put a 2.5-foot-by-433-foot "ticker" on the Transportation Center. Both signs are bigger than any ad signs allowed in city code, and Lamar failed to prove that Transportation Center couldn't function without them, she wrote.
Lamar's attorney, Sam Kamin, said he had not seen the decision and could not comment.
Lamar built half of the sign based on a zoning staffer's approval, which was then appealed by five city council members. As part of a court settlement, Lamar agreed to go through normal public process, which included a public hearing. The matter eventually wound up with the ZBA because Lamar needed a zoning variance to put up a sign that large in that location.
Councilman Patrick Dowd who filed the appeal of Lamar's sign permit -- soon joined by four colleagues who later split from him -- said he was "delighted to see that the way that we reviewed the law and studied the matter turned out to be right, at least by the Zoning Board decision.
"I am sure that Lamar will appeal it."
The decision was by the slimmest of margins.
Board Chair Wrenna Watson wrote a two-page dissent, saying that the city had "a fairly well-established custom" of granting electronic billboard permits in return for the removal of a larger number of vinyl billboards. She wrote that the complaints of residents of The Pennsylvanian, an apartment building across the street from the sign site, were unfounded.
"I am empathetic with the other residents, but find that liking the LED board is very subjective and those who don't like LEDs are passionate and speak out," she wrote. Putting the electronic sign between the stately Pennsylvanian and Liberty Center is "an appropriate mix of the beautiful old, historic development with the exciting, new development" the city needs.
She also cited the "unrecoverable expenses by Lamar."
Ms. Mitinger wrote that the millions of dollars Lamar spent on the unique sign don't outweigh its incongruity with the rules, "particularly in the absence of due diligence to comply with the code."
The third board member, David Toal, did not participate because he has done legal work for Lamar. A tie vote "acts as a legal denial" of Lamar's claims, Ms. Watson wrote.
The billboard won an over-the-counter permit from a zoning employee a year ago, without the public hearings and votes typically required for a sign that exceeds size limits. At around the same time, the Pittsburgh Parking Authority gave Lamar a no-bid lease to put the sign on the Transportation Center, without a vote of the authority board.
When the sign plan became public in February, it set off a landslide of events that included lawsuits between Lamar and City Council members, revelations of Christmas gifts from a Lamar executive to then-Urban Redevelopment Authority Executive Director and parking authority board member Pat Ford, Mr. Ford's resignation from Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's administration and allegation of "corruption," and a legal settlement between the city and Mr. Ford.
"I hope people don't lose the fact that this is the tip of the iceberg," said Councilman William Peduto, who along with Council President Doug Shields, and members Bruce Kraus and Ricky Burgess joined with Mr. Dowd, but then balked at his handling of the appeal. "The battle that the four of us took on was on a much bigger issue of what is happening in city hall: special rights for special friends. And this was just the most blatant."
Mr. Dowd said the key now is whether the city aggressively defends the zoning board's decision when the inevitable court challenge comes.
"Originally, the administration was not willing to enforce this matter," he said. "They were not on the right side of this issue before, and I would hope that they are and stay on the right side of this issue now."
Mr. Ravenstahl's administration had no immediate comment.
Friday, December 19, 2008
meeting for interested parties concerning a comprehensive revision of
the City of Los Angeles sign ordinance. The sign ordinance is located
in Article 14.4 of the Municipal Code. The purpose of the revision is
to rewrite the sign ordinance so that it is content-neutral and only
regulates the time, place or manner in which signs are displayed. The
public information meeting will be held as follows:
Date: Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Time: 2:00 pm to 3:30 pm
Place: Los Angeles City Hall, Room 1035
At the meeting, the issues that should be considered in drafting the
proposed revision will be discussed. Suggestions and specific
proposals for revising the sign ordinance are welcome. An RSVP
confirming your attendance at the meeting would be appreciated.
Also please note that the City Planning Commission will conduct a
public hearing on staff's recommended revision on January 22, 2009.
Copies of the staff report will be available for public review one
week before the hearing.
Alan Bell, AICP
Senior City Planner
Office of Zoning Administration
Department of City Planning
(213) 978-1334 fax
As President of the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Institute of Architects I represent over 3000 design professionals, affiliates, and students that are directly responsible for designing and building the future of Los Angeles.
Our Chapter Board has taken a strong position in favor of adoption of a strong off-site signage interim control ordinance and we urge you to support a strong off-site signage ICO when it is presented to you this afternoon.
Our research indicates:
- Off-site signage is out of control in the City of Los Angeles.
- Off-site signage is a major cause of environmental degradation and blight, obscuring our beautiful natural and urban landscapes and exhausting and distracting us as we move about our city. Off-site signage not only makes Los Angeles as a whole less desirable as an environment but diminishes our City as an attraction and economic magnet in comparison to other cities that also treasure their views, their skies and their landscapes.
- Off-site signage technologies are expanding very rapidly and the City government is not anticipating the myriad ways that commercial advertising will be imposed into our public environments in coming months and years.
- Off-site signage is already illegal in the City of Los Angeles but nevertheless proliferating.
- Off-site signage is increasingly being understood through research as being a traffic safety hazard. A flood of research will be released in coming months that will demonstrate this.
- Off-site signage is increasingly intruding into Los Angeles' residential neighborhoods.
- The off-site signage industry uses every discrepancy in our laws and court settlements to push additional off-site signage into our urban and natural environments.
- Off-site signage is not protected free speech that is constitutionally guaranteed. Commercial speech can be regulated and the courts have consistently backed this up.
- Off-site signage has been successfully banned or severely limited in cities throughout the United States including Houston.
- Limiting off-site signage does not mean that the environment of particular and unique parts of Los Angeles do not or can not accommodate creative commercial signage. The problem is that the off-site industry defines all of Los Angeles as fair game for new off-site signs.
Please support and vote for a meaningful off-site signage interim control ordinance when it is presented today.
Thank you for you consideration and time.
AIA/LA is always available to answer questions and lend design expertise to assist you in addressing environmental design issues in the City of Los Angeles.
If you need immediate assistance on this matter, please call or contact:
American Institute of Architects, Los Angeles Chapter
As always we appreciate your service and hard work,
John Kaliski, AIA
American Institute of Architects Los Angeles Chapter
John Kaliski, AIA
3921 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 1100
Los Angeles, California 90010
(V) 213.383.7980, #201