A Banner Week for California’s Billboard Industry

by Patrick McGreevy on May 6, 2009

(Ed note: We rarely reprint newspaper stories, but McGreevy is an expert in this area and his L.A. Times piece on the billboard industry’s influence over California lawmakers deserves broad attention.)

Sacramento, May 2 — It was a good week for the billboard industry in California: Proposals aimed at weeding out thousands of illegal billboards in Los Angeles and preventing new electronic signs along state freeways were blocked in the Legislature. However, a measure that would have allowed a billboard promoting beer to remain outside the Honda Center in Anaheim was shelved, at least temporarily.

Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo sponsored legislation by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) to eliminate a law stating that if a billboard has been up for five years without being cited, it is legal. The city says it lacks enough inspectors to check the city’s 10,000 billboards within that time period, so many owners are claiming immunity.

Sen. Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro), who in the last seven years benefited from about $16,000 in campaign contributions from the billboard industry, including the donation of a billboard promoting her 2006 election, opposed the bill.

Corbett wanted the proposal changed to allow companies a chance to comply with the law after being cited, before a billboard could be removed. Leno refused and held his bill, saying Corbett’s idea could encourage billboard owners to break the law and gamble that they wouldn’t get caught.

“By single-handedly killing this common-sense bill . . . Sen. Corbett has chosen to stand with the billboard industry instead of with everyday Californians,” Delgadillo said.

Corbett said she was trying to ensure that if a billboard were removed without compensation, the owner’s right to due process would not be violated.

Another panel blocked a proposal that would have barred advertisements on Amber Alert signs, required safety hearings before other freeway billboards are erected and at least temporarily banned supergraphics from being hung on the sides of buildings.

The bill’s author, Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles), said he wanted to prevent motorists from being distracted by the digital billboards, which flash new messages every few seconds. But it failed in the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee.

A third bill, which would have permitted beer ads on a board at the Honda Center, was shelved.

Two years after Caltrans warned Honda Center that its electronic billboard advertising Miller beer to motorists on the 57 Freeway was illegal, an Orange County lawmaker proposed exempting that sign from the law. Sen. Louis Correa (D-Santa Ana) suggested that alcohol ads be allowed as long as the drinks were consumed on arena premises.

The beer maker has opened the tap on $281,000 in campaign contributions to lawmakers — including Correa — since 2006, when the board went up. Correa withdrew his proposal after it garnered opposition from key lawmakers.

This piece was first published in the Los Angeles Times.

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