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Billboard Battle Is So On: Moratorium Introduced

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Assemblymen Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles) (pictured at the podium), was joined by many of our city council members to announce the introduction of AB109, legislation that would put a two-year moratorium on the construction and/or conversion of new digital billboards. The crux of the bill is safety and whether the ads distract drivers; Feuer wants to wait for the results of numerous traffic studies before more boards are converted (around 900 are cleared to go digital). But let's cut to the chase: This is the boldest attempt in recent memory by legislators in regards to the billboard issue. And Assemblyman Feuer, who also introduced traffic-fighting Measure R, is quickly becoming the city's superhero politician--someone give that man a red cape. But the quote of the day goes to Los Angeles City Planning Commission member Mike Woo (far right), who told the press: "The billboard industry is like a creature in a science fiction movie that expands to fill any space that you make for it, and then asks, 'Have I got your attention yet?" Yes, the city believes it is fighting "Swamp Thing." An extremely wealthy Swamp Thing.

The obvious question: Given the deep pockets the billboard company has, have any lawsuits been filed over this recent legislation? Not yet. But Feuer told us that he does believe that this will be a challenging bill, and that he expects the biggest fight to come from the billboard companies. "I've had difficult bills and won, and this is a difficult bill." (Indeed, some news reports are already saying this bill will never pass.)

Added Feuer: "...In Sacramento anytime that you make a major change in the way business is done in the state, it's challenging. But I optimistic that my colleagues will view this in the same common sense way that I do..This is about safety first, and then we'll make a business decision, rather than making a business decision and then looking at safety."

Dennis Hathaway, founder of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight was also at the press conference. A stern watchdog of the billboard company, as well as the city's action/inaction in regards to the billboards, he seemed extremely pleased about the bill. But he also told us that he expected some of the billboard companies to file suit. "I don't think they are going to want to wait two years, I think they will sue," he said.

Meanwhile, city officials have recently mentioned that they are looking into in the legality of the 2004 billboard settlement (that deal allows the nearly 900 digital conversions). Will they continue to investigate the 2004 deal, and how will this new legislation affect that?

"I decided to focus on the public safety of the issue," Feuer said. "...Clearly, there is a concern about the results of the [2004] settlement...and my bill will pertain to billboards that have yet to be erected or converted pursuant to that settlement. There is law that says that subsquently enacted state legislation...can have an impact on pre-existing settlements and I hope that is the case here."

City Council President Eric Garcetti also responded to this question, stating: "There's pending litigation so we can't comment on all the details, but we do expect this to impact it moving forward...Depending on the outcome of the litigation, the previous agreement with the billboards may or may not hold..."

Next, the bill will be heard at a State Assembly hearing in March. From there, it goes to the Appropriations Committee and then to the floor of the State Assembly. And if approved, it goes to the Senate, and if approved there, to the Governor's desk for signing in September.
· Statewide Moratorium on Digital Billboards Proposed [Curbed LA]