EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story said the Planning Department would use a lottery to determine who could create a new digital billboard. That was mentioned in a draft of the proposal but is not included in the proposal presented to the Planning Commission. The story has been updated to correct that error.
The West Hollywood’s Planning Commission will be asked Thursday night to endorse a proposal to permit the addition of as many as 18 new billboards to the current 89 on the Sunset Strip over the next 15 years. There already are another four under development. If endorsed by the commission, the proposal will be sent to the City Council for final approval. If adopted by the City Council, the proposal would allow as many as 111 signs on the Sunset Strip by 2032.
The proposal from the city’s Department of Community Development is part of an effort to update the Sunset Specific Plan, which governs development on that area of Sunset Boulevard from Doheny Drive on the west to near Havenhurst Drive on the east. The update is in response to a request from the City Council in 2012 to create a new vision for the Strip, which is famed for its billboards, that encompasses new digital and other approaches to design.
Ot the potential 111 billboards:
— Seventy-two could be traditional billboards, with one of those a new billboard integrated into a new building or installed as part of the remodeling of an existing building.
— Twenty-four could be digital billboards. Of that number, four already are in some stage of planning or construction on Sunset Boulevard. Three digital billboards would be permitted on sites with designated cultural resources. And 17 would be part of new buildings or the remodeling of existing buildings.
— Fifteen of the billboards would be so-called “tall walls,” which are large signs on the facades of buildings. The proposal would not allow additional tall wall signs.
“The Sunset Strip is one of the top three most valuable locations for signage in the world, along with Times Square and Tokyo, providing a premier opportunity for creating a unique and valuable public space,” says a Community Development report, which also notes that the billboards generate a lot of money for billboard companies and those on whose property they sit. “Economic analysis estimates the total value of all signs on the Sunset Strip is approximately $44.2 million per year” it says.
The proposal is likely to draw comments from a number of people who live along and near the Sunset Strip. In the past meetings about the Strip’s billboards they have praised them but said they don’t want more of them.
The proposal would create a Sunset Strip Billboard district with three sectors:
— West Region. This area extends from Doheny Drive on the west to the Sunset Plaza area on the east. “The western section is the most typically urban portion of the Strip, defined by an east-west grid,” the report notes “Billboards are clustered among buildings, and there are few public (views), but the straight street allows billboards to be viewed from significant distances.” The proposal would allow half of the new billboards to be installed in this area.
— Central Region. This area extends and is dominated by the Sunset Plaza retail district. The report notes that the area is “celebrated in part for its uninterrupted views of the Los Angele Basin to the south.” The Community Development Department proposes no new billboards in the Central Region but would allow some of them to be converted to digital signs.
— The East Region, which extends from the Sunset Plaza Central District to the city’s border with Los Angeles on the east. Half of the new billboards would be constructed in this region.
The city will assess an operation fee on all billboards in the district, which would help support its arts program. All new or modified existing billboards will included in the district and participate in the arts program. Traditional billboards will have to display public art a minimum of four days a year, and digital billboards will have to dedicate 25% of their programming to non-commercial art. The proposal envisions a future West Hollywood Billboard festival that would display the works of artists.
The district “is the framework for Sunset Boulevard to expand its role as a large-scale opportunity for connecting viewers to world class art in innovative and unexpected ways, creating an opportunity for internationally recognized and emerging artists to showcase a variety of digital and video art.”
Builders of new billboards would have to negotiate with the city for approval. That negotiation would include a fee, some of which the proposal suggests the city use to create “pedestrian and streetscape improvements or equivalent contribution(s) on Sunset, including without limitation, wider sidewalks, or new publically accessible open space such as a view terrace, a pocket park or a public seating area.” Elyse Eisenberg, president of the West Hollywood Heights Neighborhood Association, argued in an op-ed published in WEHOville in April that some revenue from billboards should go to improvements in the Sunset Strip neighborhood.
The Planning Commission will meet at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the City Council Chambers, 625 N. San Vicente Blvd. south of Santa Monica.