Criminal Signage?

Is it just me or are things escalading rapidly in Los Angeles with the whole billboard/supergraphics war? If you’ve been following the news in the LA Times (or other media outlets from NBC to a variety of blogs) you probably already know about the warrants that had been issued by Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich. To recap: The first warrant and subsequent arrest saw one businessman spend three days in jail before he agreed to take down an eight-story supergraphic on a building at Hollywood Boulevard and Highland, just down the street from the Academy Awards ceremony. He agreed to remove the sign in exchange for having his bail reduced from $1 million (yes, you read that right) to $100,000.

Days later, Trutanich secured arrest warrants against four people accused of putting up supergraphics without permits—three for $100,000 bail and one for $250,000 bail. At the same time, Trutanich also secured misdemeanor criminal warrants against four companies.

By the time we go to press, I’m sure there will be another chapter in this unfolding story. But from where I’m sitting, it certainly seems like overkill—at least from my point of view. In one of the LA Times’ Letters to the Editor, Stephanie E. O’Neill wrote: “With California in the worst budget crisis in my lifetime, I can’t help but cringe at this gratuitous use of our rapidly dwindling resources. People are losing their homes and jobs. Violent criminals roam the streets. Is it really a priority to jail and prosecute a guy for putting up a big sign?”

Some argue that the graphic was a safety issue, that it may have fallen off the building and injured pedestrians and that it hadn’t been checked by the city inspectors. We’ve all seen some of the shoddy installations by “fly-by-night” companies—the times when you cross the street to walk on the other side. I can’t say if this installation was good or bad—I wasn’t there.

A lot of this originally started when billboards—traditional and the new electronic ones—were basically overrunning LA. I can understand where this began. The last thing I want to see is a supergraphic or a brightly-lit LED or digital billboard in a residential area shining in my bedroom window in the middle of the night. But what about in commercial sectors? Doesn’t it have a place there?

There was talk about creating sign districts, places where these kinds of advertisements would have a home—which makes sense. And inspecting the installation of these kinds of graphics—which weigh hundreds of pounds—would probably be prudent, as well.

My real worry is that other cities will see what’s happening in LA and think it’s a good idea to outlaw supergraphics and billboards entirely. Can you imagine Times Square without billboards or graphics or brightly flashing lights? I know I can’t.

I’m sure there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes, but it will sure be interesting to see what happens when the next big event or election comes to LA and needs to be promoted. I wonder how many supergraphics we’ll see then.