Billboard Companies Take Their Fight to WeHo’s Sidewalks

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.

A simulated view of the proposed Ace billboard at 9015 Sunset Blvd.

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 In response, the Council repealed the ordinance.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.

  1. Be aware. There is a guy from one of the rainbow signature petitioners riding his bike on the sidewalks Tri-West Area this morning. He is aggressive and rides his bike against you to the point to almost colliding with you or your dog. Another one that is verbally aggressive if you say that you will not sign the petition. I have his picture in case someone is interested.

  2. I’m not a citizen and so I can’t be a registered voter. I told them that the first 5 (yes FIVE in 1 week) times they approached me while I was walking my dogs. Last night they came to my house and rang my doorbell THREE times in 2 hours. We have a No Solicitation sign but they don’t care. I tried to ignore them but the first woman refused to stop ringing the bell so I opened it. I told her I was not registered to vote because I’m not a citizen and could she please respect the no solicitation sign. She then immigrant shamed me telling me I can’t tell her what to do because ‘it’s America” and she was going to tell the city about me. I’m here legally but seriously, this is how they get signatures?! Also so much for a sanctuary city. The next guy who rang my bell (half hour later) walked away when I didn’t answer. The third (15 minutes after him) kept ringing like the first and when I answered and told him I can’t vote and asked him to respect the sign he said (word for word) “You can stop talking now. I’m not listening” I am now actively against their cause because of their behavior. Great job.

  3. Fake activists fake petitions fake cause fake news fake people fake President. We live an era of fakenes. Everything so fake about both sides. Goons gone wild.

  4. These petitioners have gotten out of hand on both sides. Both of them are using the same shady tactics to forward their own agenda. I’m approached dozens of times a day by these people. When I say that I’m not interested, they give me some sob story about how they get paid per signature and don’t want to be homeless. I’ve even had them literally run after me. I’ve also seen them stop people in the middle of traffic on Santa Monica blvd. while writing this message, I had several come up to me from the sidewalk during my brunch at Basix this afternoon. I actually had one of them knock on my door while writing this comment even though I live in a gated and secure building. Petitioners on both sides are employing these same harassing tactics.

    Beyond the harassment, the petitioners are deliberately lying about their positions. While I have refused to sign these petitions as a general rule (I prefer to research them online first), these guys are taking misleading to a whole new level. Both claim to be be saving the Rainbow room in one way or another and both claim to be “preventing the Sunset Strip from becoming another Times Square” or some other similar argument.

    Personally, I support the billboards along the Sunset Strip. Almost everyone who visits me from out of town prioritizes seeing them. They’re also a unique staple of this neighborhood and WeHo as a whole. I feel a unique sense of pride in the diversity of my home town. One that includes the uniquely Hollywood and urban feeling of the Sunset Strip, the heart of the LA LGBT community along Santa Monica Blvd, the art and design district along melrose and the oasis of single family homes in West Hollywood West. What other city can claim such diversity in under 2 square miles?

    II’m also in favor of supporting nightlife in general, doing what it takes to keep it going and preferably growing. This billboard seems like a small price to pay for the cause. As far as the specific venue, I have no particular loyalties towards it. I’ve probably been there once over the past 15+ years of being in WeHo at least part time. I remember it being dirty, rowdy, and having handicap accessibility issues. That last issue is something with which I take major issue.

    This brings me to my last point. This particular building is a significantly inefficient use of space. I’d much rather see the RR (in a modern and accessible location) at the base of a new building which would accommodate that same sign on its side and within the normal height restrictions and even offer more parking. Unfortunately, accomplishing this would prove extremely complicated.

    Given the state of things, I’d rather see the this sign than have another mess like what has happened to the Tower Records building. Hopefully the revenue from the sign will afford the opportunity for all parties to work out a long term solution as to what will eventually occupy this location.

  5. It is not safe and they are rude people. Don’t share any personal information with them, I have three of them knocking at my door from 2 to 6 pm today and because I did not sign the petition one of the girl called “ugly old man”. Where are our City Council members? Worry about the election.

  6. Keep finding these folks in my residential neighbourhood (nowhere near the Blvd). Middle of day (so they not know folks work?), at night, etc. As a woman walking alone, I find this threatening and unsafe, particularly in the evening. Being confronted by a stranger isn’t pleasant.

  7. I am so tired of the Rainbow petitioners harassment either on the street or coming to my door. None of them have been honest and they are confusing people to get their signature. Worst is when you see that those people don’t even live in our community and trying to push their agenda to the residents. I am not happy with a stranger asking me if I am a register voter or not. I am a resident of WeHo period. If the City wants our opinion as residents it is not important to know if you are register or not. Many residents in WeHo as in any other cities around the country are not registered voters. I do support the Rainbow right to place the Billboard, I do not support the petition process for either side. Stinky, very stinky process.

  8. have had people coming to my door. Some are trump supporters. I asked one if they even knew what they were fighting for. She had no idea. claimed to be LGBT friendly, then told me I needed to give Trump a chance. I say no to anything the Rainbow Room is asking for. You are all WOLVES IN LGBT CLOTHING!!!

  9. I think the billboard politics in this city are ridiculous. The City deliberately imposes restrictions on billboards precisely so that some politically connected people can come around and buy an exception to the restrictions, whether by paying money to the City, donating to political campaigns, paying money to some favored “charity,” or going through a tremendously expensive voter initiative process. The majority of people in West Hollywood are fine with billboards, especially on Sunset Blvd. They don’t hurt anyone, they showcase what’s trending in popular culture and they are a way to cover up ugly old buildings and parking facilities. If the City would allow twice as many billboards, it would cost less to advertise on one and billboard owners would not be making insane profits for finding some way to buy an exception to existing rules that everyone else has to follow. Then, having a billboard would then not be treated as a life-and-death matter for businesses and people connected to political schemes, and those people wouldn’t have a financial reason to launch those expensive political schemes. And people with billboards on dilapidated or boarded-up properties would have to fix them up and return to them to productive economic use instead of just living on the inflated income from this artificial billboard scarcity. The City should concentrate on finding ways for new billboards to be inoffensively constructed and sited, with uniform policies that people cannot buy exceptions to. It should not be in the business of using billboards to raise money for political enrichment.

  10. I was approached on the top deck parking at Pavillion’s, telling me City Council wants to tear down the Rainbow Room in order to allow a billboard. None of it made sense … even by WeHo standards … and I didn’t sign the petitions.

  11. They came to my door, referring to me by name as a registered voter (which I am). They attempted to bully me into signing the petition in order to save The Rainbow. After I told them I was not interested and closed my door, they remained outside my door pleading for another 5 minutes that it’s only a signature and I should save The Rainbow. These are brazen, rude and unethical attempts to mislead and manipulate residents of West Hollywood.

  12. Just left Starbucks. A lady tried to tell me that her petition from Ace was to “save the rainbow room” I saw this article and then informed her that I knew her petition was to remove my signature from the other petition (if I had signed the other position)
    So the people pushing the ace petition or misleading people and I called her out on it. ( needless to say she did not like that and she stop talking to me)
    There was another gentleman outside with the Regency petition to stop the billboard. While I don’t feel strongly about this issue either way, I almost signed this petition just because he was the one honest about it

  13. I was so irritated to get bombarded by the people that are opposing the City Council’s Feb 6th. Also I tried talking to one of these people and he did not even know the extent of what was happeneing, told me this would close the Rainbow (which the owner spoke in favor of the billboard at council) and the guy was from freaking Covina who the hell is he to tell me about my city. They don’t know their facts and people shouldn’t just blindly sign this without getting ALL the facts first!!!

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