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L.A. Metro Working to Build Digital Billboards Throughout City

The transportation authority wants to erect up to 49 billboard structures, most with double-sided display screens, which would result in 86 total digital billboards throughout the city.

Los Angeles
(TNS) — LA Metro's push to erect digital billboards across Los Angeles cleared a hurdle on Thursday, Sept. 14, when the city's planning commission unanimously recommended that the City Council amend the zoning code that bans such billboards in the city.

Metro wants to erect up to 49 billboard structures, most with double-sided display screens, which would result in 86 total digital billboards throughout the city.

The planning commission recommended eliminating three of the double-sided structures, leaving in place 46 structures with a total of 80 billboard displays. The planning department recommended rejecting three proposed billboard structures, two of which would be built near land called the "Bowtie" on the eastern bank of the L.A. River which is expected to become a state park.

The commission also went along with a recommendation from city planners to set the digital billboard hours of operation from 5 a.m. to midnight, to address concerns that the night sky will be lit up by intense lighting.

Planning Commission President Samantha Millman acknowledged before the commission voted 6-0 to recommend that the City Council allow digital billboards, that she's had trepidations about digital signs. But she said she was voting "yes" because the signs, which won't have animation, will use new technology to dampen their brightness.

"We are experimenting with something that has not been done before in the city," Millman said. "There is a different type of technology available to us, with these louvers that prevent the light spread, that gives me a lot more comfort than what we would get with a traditional digital sign."

Cindy Cleghorn, a member of the Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council, speaking as an individual, said in an interview before the meeting that that allowing digital billboards could put L.A. on a dangerous path.

"It's ugly and trashy, and we're not Las Vegas," Cleghorn said.

Metro's billboard proposal, known as the Transportation Communication Network, is projected to generate $1 billion in advertising revenue over 30 years, half of which would be shared with the city. It would also broadcast emergency messages and real-time traffic updates to drivers as needed, representatives for Metro say.

As part of the agreement, Metro would remove more than 200 older, traditional billboards throughout the city.

The commission heard from a number of people, both for and against the signs, before its vote.

Opponents say there is no need for digital billboards, raising concerns that the ads — which would change about every eight seconds — could distract drivers, which would lead to more accidents, and that the bright lights would create visual blight and could negatively impact birds and other wildlife.

According to Wendy-Sue Rosen, co-president of the Coalition for a Beautiful Los Angeles, which opposes digital billboards, 15 neighborhood councils are on record opposing Metro's plan. Neighborhood councils are advisory bodies who each represent about 40,000 residents, and they advocate on behalf of their neighborhoods.

Those who spoke in favor of the digital billboards plan on Thursday included union workers, who said the project would create jobs for Angelenos, and Metro riders who said the revenues from the signs would allow Metro to make upgrades to its facilities, buy more buses and hire more people, including hiring more safety personnel.

One person who called into the meeting said she doesn't feel safe riding Metro because its facilities have been overrun by unhoused people.

"I take the bus at night and I don't feel safe. Even in the morning, I don't feel safe. Our trains have become homeless shelters," said the caller.

Others who want digital billboards said the ability to receive emergency alerts and real-time traffic updates will be beneficial to the public and the city should embrace modern technology.

Rosen said after the commission's vote that she was disappointed by the outcome.

She said she felt the commission did not address residents' concerns about potential billboards going up along scenic corridors, the ads change every eight seconds, or their request that Metro be required to take down more older billboards than they've agreed to remove.

"We will continue to weigh in with our elected officials and the mayor's office," she said. "In the end, if this gets approved with policies that we believe will violate the law, we will file a lawsuit."

Speaking to reporters after the vote, Holly Rockwell, Metro's senior executive officer, said the agency plans to request that the three billboard structures rejected by the planning commission be added back when the proposed ordinance makes its way through the city's approval process.

"There's some things, obviously, that we'd like to continue (to address in) the council process," she said. "But absolutely, pleased to have their support" today, she said of the planning commissioners.

The proposed ordinance is expected to be reviewed next by the City Council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee, which will decide whether to forward it to the full City Council for a vote.

© 2023 Daily Breeze, Torrance, Calif. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.