In case you haven't looked up lately, area resident Mike McNeilly and his SkyTag supergraphic company put up a bunch of supergraphics--of Lady Liberty and the phrase 1969--around Los Angeles last week. What has followed: Outrage from locals who believe Mr. McNeilly, who has a long and litigious relationship with the city, is breaking that three-month moratorium on new signs, and a LA Times story that states the city is investigating these signs. Are these supergraphics somehow grandfathered in? Are they allowed? Mr. McNeilly, who appears to be putting up these signs in reaction to the moratorium, tells us they are. That may be the case--we are waiting for an official statement from the city attorney about these supergraphics. But it doesn't seem to matter if these signs are legal or not. Because they are already up. More importantly, no one looks good here. The city looks bad, once again showing off its failed sign policy. Mr. McNeilly may be highlighting that failed policy, but his actions are ridiculous. And you know who looks the worst? Lady Liberty, whose image was put up so sloppily on a Wilshire building that the entire supergraphic was rippling in the wind on Saturday. Never make a woman look wrinkled, Mr. McNeilly. Update: Here's an October story on how "art" is being used essentially as a "placeholder," and is all part of a legal maneuver. Update: Dennis Hathaway, head of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight, says the Wilshire signs are illegal.
In response to our query about the supergraphics, Mr. McNeilly writes:
The murals of the Statue of Liberty are an artistic and political expression protected by
the First Amendment. The series of murals depict the iconic symbol of freedom and
liberty and the year 1969, a year of great accomplishments and change in America.
The seeds of the Internet sewn, Woodstock, Vietnam war divides America and Apollo 11, man's first steps on the moon. The three colors of the sky behind "Liberty" represent red for the crisis and challenges America faces now, white for clarity in seeing truth and justice and blue for hope and change. The tear in the eye of Liberty is for the sacrifices made by our soldiers, first responders and veterans protecting our security, rights and freedom.
The City of Los Angeles has entitled and sold electronic billboards, supergraphics, kiosks and sign rights to select favored groups and have denied others the same opportunities. United States District Judge Audrey Collins ruled 1. Sections 14.4.4 (B) (11) of the sign ordinance violate the First Amendment because the exceptions in those provisions for off-site signs permitted pursuant to special plans, supplemental use districts, and development agreements vest unfettered discretion in City officials.
2. The exceptions in sections 14.4.4 (B) (9) and 14.4.4 (B) (11) for off-site signs permitted pursuant to special plans, supplemental use districts, and development agreements are not severable.
These properties were imaged legally prior to the City enacting and finalizing
a moratorium. Changing content or the message is a protected right contrary to what some City officials believe they control. The right of free speech should not be decided by a select few for a select few.
Artist "Liberty 1969"
We asked Mr. McNeilly for more info following this email...this is what he wrote back....
I am not breaking the moratorium because these buildings were legally imaged prior to the moratorium being enacted. The right to change an image/artwork is not part of the moratorium and is legal. The moratorium was put into place very stealth by the City and enacted over the holidays in closed session not open to the public. No public notice of pending ordinance, just here say and rumors.
The ruling by Judge Audrey Collins found the City ordinances unconstitutional. The City also has entered into stays of enforcement with major outdoor companies until the City's appeal is heard and decided by the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.
I am not a lawyer but common sense says the City can't give rights and entitlements to themselves and a select few and deny others the same rights. Selective enforcement of laws is also unconstitutional. The courts will render the final ruling whether the City can use unfettered discretion in making decisions that effect all of us.
A email sent on Saturday from a homeowner near the Wilshire and Highland building:
Dear Councilman LaBonge, Deputy Mensman and Deputy Ezhari:
Even after the communications you have all received and forwarded to the Building inspectors and even the L.A. Times story of January 1st, 2009 where the offending building was the photo subject, the owners of 4929 Wilshire and Mr. McNally have decided to further stick a thumb in the eye of our city's laws and the Hancock Park, Brookside and Miracle Mile neighborhoods as a whole.
I am writing this at 10:20 a.m. on Saturday, January 3rd, and earlier this morning, Mr. McNally's crews were back on their scaffold at Wilshire and Highland, this time erecting a vinyl window window covering supergraphic wrap on the Wilshire side of the building. True to form, it's first thing in the morning on a weekend or holiday when enforcement is likely to be lax to non-existent.
We put a call in to the L.A.P.D. in hopes that they will be able to at least stop them from erecting the sign today, but obviously without stronger enforcement and fines that far outweigh the potential profits from this enterprise, both Mr. McNally and the building owners will be at it again sooner rather than later. To get an idea of what Mr. McNally obviously has in mind for our quiet, residential neighborhood, one need not go any further than his apparent "ground zero" at Highland and Franklin where his "Statue of Liberty" supergraphic is hung, wrapped and painted on every vertical surface short of the Methodist church, although, who knows, that might be next.
Thank you so much for your time and attention.
I look forward to hearing of your progress on this matter.
Happy New Year!
Background: In October, we wrote a story about a CNN mural created by Mike McNeilly, noting that mural is being used as a legal tactic. From that October post: "The city is fighting supergraphic advertising (the whole issue has been going through the courts), and if a new city ordinance is drafted, any existing graphics would be grandfathered in and allowed, according to McNeilly."