Billboard Vigilantes: Neighborhoods Take the Law into Their Own Hands

War against visual blight heats up as activists inventory digital and other signs

How much solar energy does it take to run a giant digital billboard 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year?

A lot -- the flashing electronic signs consume the same amount of power as 13 homes, but the bigger point is that the two issues are becoming intertwined in the Los Angeles political arena.

The mayor and City Council are pushing a $3 billion solar energy plan that will add up to 8 percent to soaring electricity rates and put the work of installing the units on the rooftops of government, commercial and industrial buildings entirely in the hands of the Department of Water and Power and its IBEW workforce.

That has become a hot button issue as the March 3 primary campaign gets under way -- and so has the out-of-control billboard problem.

Pressure is building for a one-year moratorium on new billboards of any kind in the city while an inventory is completed to find out where the estimated 4,000 illegal signs are located.

But community activists aren't waiting for the city to act. Fed up with waiting seven years for city officials to do anything about the problem, they are taking the law into their own hands and acting as billboard vigilantes.

Residents started the movement and came up with a list of 57 billboards.

 "We turned it in about two months ago and still haven't heard anything," Lisa Sarkin, corresponding secretary for the Studio City Neighborhood Council told the Daily News

Dennis Hathaway and his Ban Billboard Blight campaign have been driving the issue and raising awareness with increasing effect ever since the city won a lawsuit against billboard companies and then reached a controversial settlement that green-lighted many new digital signs and left many old illegal ones in place.

The City Planning Commission recently endorsed the moratorium to give the city time to complete a full inventory of the city's 11,000 signs and develop a new policy on signs.

Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Westside areas from Brentwood to Westchester, recently joined with neighborhood groups to inventory all the signs in the area.

They found 563 billboards in the area, including 17 digital ones -- a number that is growing rapidly in the affluent Westside, Hathaway's group reported this week.

The Hall of Shame Award went to Lincoln Boulevard south of the Santa Monica city border with 84 signs. Clear Channel deserved by a bad corporate citizen award with 143 signs followed closely by CBS Outdoor. There were 34 signs that didn't have the legally required company identification.

But fixing the problem of illegal signs isn't going to be that easy.

"Frank Bush, chief inspector of the Code Enforcement Bureau, said determining whether a permit has been issued for a sign will require a laborious search through an antiquated record-keeping system," according to the Daily News.

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