It can be annoying to watch your trash can overflow with those mailers touting candidates in the March 7 WeHo City Council election. Then there are even more mailers about the L.A. County Unified School District election. With candidates portrayed as “the Billionaires’ Puppets,” a headline saying “FBI seizes LAUSD records related to troubled iPad program” and an anti-Steve Zimmer mailer titled “Making of a Scandal” that creepily alludes to the “Making of a Murderer” documentary, at least those are entertaining.
But now it’s not just your trash cans. Two battling billboard companies are stopping voters on West Hollywood’s sidewalks asking them to sign petitions. One petition, backed by Regency Outdoor, demands the City Council reconsider its Feb. 6 approval of the Ace Outdoor Advertising billboard at the Rainbow Room on Sunset Boulevard. Another petition, apparently backed by Ace and the Rainbow Bar and Grill, urges those who have signed the Regency petition to state that they didn’t know what they were doing and want their signatures removed from the anti-billboard petition.
The Regency petition would force the City Council to reconsider its decision to let Ace place an unusually sized 48-foot-tall by 14-foot-wide billboard atop the Rainbow at 9015 Sunset Blvd. near North Wetherly Drive, replacing an existing sign. With the pole on which it would be mounted, the sign would extend 89 feet above the ground. For Ace to install the billboard, which is taller than the current 60-foot height limit, the council had to amend the zoning for the property and also enact a “development agreement.” Such an agreement is conditioned on the billboard being “creative” and providing benefits to the city. In the case of this billboard, the benefits could be nearly $200,000 in annual fees for 20 years. Ace makes money by charging advertisers for placement on the billboard.
The current Regency petition drive isn’t the first time Ace has had to deal with this. The City Council first approved the Ace billboard proposal in 2010. However, opponents of the billboard, backed by competitors of Ace, submitted a proposal for a referendum to challenge the Council’s approval. In response, the Council repealed the ordinance.
Then in 2011, the Council approved the Ace proposal again, acting against the recommendation of the Planning Commission. One issue raised by the Commission was that Ace was proposing to put the new billboard on a pole over the Rainbow instead of replacing a sign already on the Rainbow’s roof. The municipal code states that a creative billboard “shall alter an existing billboard without changing its location” which would be slightly altered by using the pole.
But, again faced with a possible lawsuit, the Council reversed its 2011 approval. In 2012 the Council asked city staffers to review new and proposed billboards on Sunset Boulevard and update a city plan for the area after that review. But when city staffers told the Council the review would take longer than anticipated, the Council directed them to proceed with reviewing Ace’s application. The application was endorsed by the Planning Commission at an October 2014 meeting. But in November 2014 the City Council asked city staffers to reconsider the proposed height and find a way to integrate the billboard into famous signs for the Roxy and Rainbow Grill.
A Regency signature gatherer outside the Starbucks at Santa Monica Boulevard at Westmount today focused his pitch on the height of the Ace billboard — “five stories.” Across the street, in front of the 24 Hour Fitness gym, a signature gatherer working on behalf of Ace focused his pitch on saving the Rainbow Room. It “needs its new billboard because of the years its business has declined. In order to keep the Rainbow Room alive and thriving, it needs additional income, which the billboard will provide.” The pitch also notes that the billboard will generate money for the City of West Hollywood.
Ironically, it calls out Brian Kennedy and his brother Drake, owners of Regency, as donors to the Donald Trump presidential campaign. The irony in that in 2014 anonymous flyers opposing the Ace billboard portrayed it as a campaign sign saying “Vote Republican.” In earlier campaigns against Ace, robo calls financed by anonymous parties alleged that Alexander Bilanzich of Ace is a Republican. Steve Afriat, his lobbyist in this matter, said that Bilanzich is not the political conservative his business competitors claim him to be.
It unclear whether Regency will get signatures from 10% of the city’s voters, which it needs to force the City Council to reconsider the Ace approval, or whether Ace will get enough signatures to wipe a lot of the Regency signatures off the petition.
But it is clear that the signature gatherers already are winning. One who spoke to WEHOville said he is paid $15 for each signature he obtains and that his transportation from his hometown of San Diego also is paid for, as well as his stay in a local hotel.