Friday, February 20, 2009

AIA/LA member & CRA/LA Commission Alejandro Ortiz, AIA quoted in LA TIMES

From the Los Angeles Times
L.A. officials, firm at odds over supergraphics
Hollywood-based CIM Group had permission to place three supergraphics on a Highland Avenue office building. Instead, six were installed.
By David Zahniser

February 20, 2009

Los Angeles officials thought they were being generous last year when they agreed to allow Hollywood-based CIM Group to place three supergraphics, or oversized vinyl advertisements, on an office building on Highland Avenue.

Three months later, that same building has six supergraphics, twice as many as were approved by the City Council. CIM Group also has not removed two billboards from the building's roof, as required under the agreement.

The situation has proved especially galling to some redevelopment officials, who point out that they have voted repeatedly to subsidize other CIM projects, approving $28 million in financial aid over the last six years.

"It makes me feel taken," said Alejandro Ortiz, an appointee of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa who serves on the Community Redevelopment Agency board. "Here we are working with these guys and . . . they've gone and completely disregarded what we agreed upon."

The office building at 1800 Highland Ave. stands as a symbol of the city's failure to gain control over unpermitted outdoor signs, even among companies that regularly seek financial help from the city. Enforcement has been complicated by a barrage of lawsuits by the advertising industry, including one filed by a company that places supergraphics on CIM Group properties.

Building inspectors said last week that they have begun investigating multistory images on six CIM-owned buildings in Hollywood, including 1800 Highland, which has three oversized ads for the movie "Frost/Nixon" and three supergraphics depicting the Statue of Liberty -- the calling card of SkyTag, a company seeking to strike down the city's sign laws.

Last month, SkyTag asked a federal judge to stop the city from enforcing its sign laws at 118 locations, eight of which are CIM buildings, while its lawsuit against Los Angeles is pending. If a judge agrees, CIM could receive temporary permission for the multistory signs, which can generate up to $100,000 per month in advertising revenue.

CIM Group representatives had no comment on 1800 Highland and several other properties. In a brief statement, the company said: "CIM is not a party to or involved with the lawsuit between SkyTag Inc. and the city of Los Angeles, and therefore does not have any comment."

SkyTag President Michael McNeilly contends that the city cannot engage in selective enforcement, prohibiting some signs while allowing others to go up in special districts such as Hollywood, where the redevelopment agency negotiates sign agreements.

In recent years, the redevelopment agency has helped CIM Group finance projects in San Pedro, Reseda and downtown Los Angeles. Meanwhile, the planning department is reviewing CIM's request for a special sign district that would allow it to install up to 11 supergraphics at its half-built shopping center known as Midtown Crossing.

That project, on Pico Boulevard, is already slated to receive $14.3 million in taxpayer money.

Redevelopment commissioner Madeline Janis said her agency gave special consideration to CIM at 1800 Highland, allowing it to have three supergraphics instead of the two that normally would have been allowed. To get the extra ad space, CIM Group paid a $200,000 fee.

"I'm extremely disappointed in what they've done. I feel like that, potentially, I was lied to," said Janis, who threatened to have the city invoke its "responsible contractor" ordinance, which could bar CIM from doing business with the agency.

CIM Group has already gotten into trouble over another Statue of Liberty supergraphic on the east wall of 7046 Hollywood Blvd., also known as the Hollywood Professional Building. CIM Group received a property tax break on the 1925 Gothic Revival office building after it promised to preserve the structure as a historical monument.

That agreement was thrown into jeopardy two months ago, however, when it allowed one of SkyTag's Statue of Liberty supergraphics to be bolted into the building's terra cotta tile walls. Within weeks, the city's Office of Historic Resources sent CIM Group a letter that accused it of violating the contract that provided the tax break.

"It is important to emphasize that the penalty for contract cancellation is a fee of . . . 12.5% of the current, fair market value of the property, plus attorney's fees," wrote Lambert Giessinger, an architect in the preservation office. CIM removed the supergraphic.

Council President Eric Garcetti said he called CIM Group to demand that it remove the supergraphic from the historical building. But he was sympathetic about the company's plight on Highland Avenue.

Although CIM Group won the council's approval for three supergraphics at 1800 Highland Ave., it failed to secure the proper permits from the Department of Building and Safety before Dec. 26, the day a new 90-day sign moratorium went into effect in Los Angeles, Garcetti said. The moratorium was approved to give the council time to rewrite its outdoor advertising regulations in a way that would withstand a court challenge

One CIM tenant had less patience for the company, saying it disregarded its commitments when it installed the supergraphic on 7046 Hollywood Blvd. "CIM took the [city's preservation program], used it to get millions of dollars in tax breaks, and then instead of adhering to the contract that it remain historic, they turned it into a massive modern billboard," said Dan Bassett, who rents the building's eighth-floor penthouse.

Bassett said he spent nearly two months trying to persuade CIM Group to remove the image, an effort that went nowhere until the city threatened a financial penalty. At one point, a CIM representative said the image had to stay up to protect the company's investors, Bassett said.

Oddly enough, CIM Group's backers include the city of Los Angeles, whose pension agencies have agreed to invest up to $115 million in the real estate company.

Although CIM Group said it is not involved in SkyTag's lawsuit, some at City Hall question whether the company is hedging its bets, putting up unpermitted signs in the hope that they will be "grandfathered in" later.

Lobbyist Jerrold Neuman, who represents the Metropolitan Hotel in Hollywood, said a SkyTag representative called his client two months ago to suggest that a Statue of Liberty supergraphic go up on one of the hotel's walls.

During the call, SkyTag said that the image would probably end up as a permitted sign once the moratorium ends, Neuman said.

DS Ventures, owner of the Metropolitan Hotel, did not agree to put up the supergraphic. The company has continued to work within the city's sign approval process -- a decision that has had a financial cost, Neuman said.

"We've worked really hard to live within the rules and do the right thing, and have foregone a tremendous amount of income and revenue," he said. "The city, in effect, rewarded people who were renegade."

Thursday, February 19, 2009



For Immediate Release


Los Angeles, CA – February 19, 2009 – Today, the American Institute of Architects (AIA/LA), Director of Government & Public Affairs, Will Wright, in testimony to the City of Los Angeles Planning Commission, requested that the Commission delay action and continue consideration of a revised sign ordinance until comprehensive visual analysis of the proposed regulations is completed.


In a letter to the Commission and the Department of Planning, AIA/LA also recommends that the Department immediately convene a panel of outside experts or a consultant team with design expertise to work with City staff to review, illustrate, and contribute to the refinement of the draft sign code.


"This is more than just an abstract policy issue about square footage of signs and digital media in the public right-of-way. No substantive visual analysis has been completed to date. This is a design issue that impacts the environmental quality, indeed brand, of Los Angeles and nobody knows what it looks like," states AIA/LA President John Kaliski.


For more information:
Will Wright
Director, Government & Public Affairs
(213) 639-0777

AIA/LA, The LA Chamber of Commerce, The Central City Association, The Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight were all victorious in seeking a continuance on signage regulations today at the City of Los Angeles Planning Commission hearing.

Public Design Advocates, Business Leaders, Billboard proponents and many others called for a delay Thursday on the city of Los Angeles' proposed ordinance revising the city's sign regulation. The City Planning Commission voted to retain a distinction between on-site and off-site signage but will meet next week to further discuss a timeline for revisions to the ordinance. The Chamber and business leaders want the city to evaluate the economic impacts associated with implementing the citywide ordinance. 

For a link to the proposed sign ordinance:


1:27 PM | February 19, 2009

The Los Angeles Planning Commission on Thursday postponed taking action on a proposed ordinance regulating all new billboards and commercial signs in the city.

Anti-billboard advocates, community groups and business representatives all urged the delay during a four-hour hearing in City Hall, saying the proposal was fraught with problems and that more public comment was necessary. The commission was expected to vote on the ordinance. The measure would outlaw new billboards, including digital displays, and supergraphics that are hung along the sides of buildings. Overall, the space allowed for new signage would shrink to one-quarter of what is currently permitted.

The commission decided to postpone consideration of the measure until its March 12 meeting and appointed a committee of four commissioners to review suggested revisions introduced at the two public hearings on the ordinance.

In December, the City Council imposed a three-month moratorium on all new signs, with a provision allowing two 45-day extensions, to buy time to replace the mishmash of codes and court rulings that regulate outdoor advertising in the city.

-- Phil Willon

Friday, February 13, 2009

Latest Draft of the Sign Ordinance

Dear AIA/LA POC Member: (for many, the last email I sent was rejected b/c the size of the file was too large)

For all of you that have been following the status of the revised sign ordinance, please find a link to the latest draft Department of City Planning Recommendation Report (which has been revised to address feedback given at the January 22 Commission Hearing).

The City Planning Commission will be meeting on Thursday, February 19 (8am) in City Hall, Room 350, to convene a public hearing on this latest draft.

A link to the document can be found here:

Will Wright,  Director of Government & Public Affairs
American Institute of Architects / Los Angeles
3780 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 800, Los Angeles, CA 90010
(213) 639-0777 phone | (213)639-0767 fax

Latest Draft of the Sign Ordinance

For all of you that have been following the status of the revised sign ordinance, please find attached the latest draft Department of City Planning Recommendation Report (which has been revised to address feedback given at the January 22 Commission Hearing).

The City Planning Commission will be meeting on Thursday, February 19 (8am) in City Hall, Room 350, to convene a public hearing on this latest draft.