Opinion: More Billboards on the Sunset Strip Should Mean More Benefits to the Public

“West Hollywood Belltower” designed by the Orange Barrel Media/Tom Wiscombe Architecture/MOCA/Walter P. Moore team.

The City of West Hollywood presented its proposed update to the Sunset Strip signage policy to the community for its input last week. And while this is just a first proposal for an update to the city’s current Sunset Strip plan, the unfortunate reality is that the city will increase billboards along the Strip regardless of public opposition.

However, at this time, we have an opportunity to weigh in on what City Hall can do to benefit the Sunset Strip and the neighborhoods around it.

I recommend that interested parties submit their own comments to City Hall (email them to Sarah Lejeune at slejeune@weho.org and ask her to include your comments in all City Council agenda packets).

These are my suggestions.

NUMBER OF BILLBOARDS

Recognizing the city is likely to approve the full 20 billboards proposed anyway, I would request that digital billboards be limited to a total of eight, whether new or conversions from existing billboards. This would double the current number of digital billboards. I think this is a reasonable compromise, and City Hall would still get the 20 new billboards it wants.

PUBLIC BENEFITS

This city has always been a leader in its support for many commendable causes including and not limited to seniors, the disabled, the LGBTQ community, disenfranchised communities and others. It has generously supported the arts and many other worthwhile causes from the city’s General Fund, which gets a not-insignificant revenue stream from billboards and other signs.

As the district most impacted by increased development and billboards, we believe it is time that the Sunset Strip and the neighborhoods around it should benefit from that revenue. Right now we get the least visible return – somewhat like the taxes California pays into the Federal government. Revenues generated by development agreements for the Sunset Strip signage projects should directly benefit the Strip and its residential areas. The following are some areas where these revenues could and should be directed:

Traffic Signal Timing (top priority!) If a congested city like New York City can manage to get traffic on Madison Avenue, Fifth Avenue and Broadway to flow from one end of the city to the other during rush hour, then we should be able to figure out how to get our 1.6 miles of the Strip to work. Why can’t the lights be synchronized and coordinated with Beverly Hills on the west and Los Angeles on the east so they flow like dominos, and a car could drive non-stop from one end of the city to the other? As soon as we cross the border on each end of the Strip, the traffic immediately eases up, so the long-time canard by city officials that our issue is pass-through traffic simply doesn’t hold up. The posted speed limit is 35 mph. That should take 2:45 minutes (at 25 mph, 3:50 minutes). We can and should do better than the all-too-often 30 to 45-plus minutes.

Valet Parking Stands. No matter what the city says about the future being fewer cars, that future hasn’t yet arrived. If the city isn’t going to invest in municipal parking lots every couple of blocks along Sunset, as Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and Culver City have done with great success, then perhaps it should consider valet parking stands on every block. Abbot Kinney has done that, also with great success. Our Sunset Strip Business Improvement District and the Chamber of Commerce could do a better job promoting the restaurants and clubs along the Strip the same way.

People aren’t coming to the Strip because of the lack of parking, the fact that it’s too expensive and the congestion. Not to mention the non-stop construction. If we want the Strip to be a walking area, this concept of dropping the car off at one valet stand and picking it up at another is a great idea.

We residents of neighborhoods along the Strip support revitalizing it as a restaurant and club row the way it used to be. However, we don’t believe that monster hotels on every block will achieve that goal. In fact, such development is antithetical to that goal. Note that a characteristic of business areas in other cities that have been promoted as walkable is the low-scale of their walking areas, which are not surrounded by intimidating high-rise sterile towers.

The Strip Pickup. Santa Monica Boulevard has one. Where’s ours? Back in 1996, the Sunset Specific Plan said that there would be a bus that makes the rounds from one end of the Strip to the other to support the nightlife-walking crowd. We need one for the same reason Santa Monica Boulevard does.

Rethinking the Streetscape. It was only ten years ago when the city “upgraded” Sunset. But while $26 million was spent exquisitely remaking Santa Monica Boulevard, only $5 million was spent on Sunset – arguably one of the most famous boulevards in the country. And most of that was spent on just resurfacing the street, with half the money coming from the Obama administration’s TARP funds. It’s time the city devoted as much attention to the Strip as it does to Santa Monica Boulevard instead of just looking at it as a piggy bank.

Does anyone remember when Sunset Boulevard from Doheny to Sunset Plaza was filled with beautiful 50-foot green, leafy trees? It was a lush boulevard as far as the eye could see. Now that’s a distant memory as we look at a sun-baked, bleak stretch of desolate roadway filled with those mostly dead, bare or scraggly trees that replaced them. Who thought deciduous (winter-dormant) trees in our Southern California climate were a good idea? None of the replacement trees that have survived have grown as much as three feet in the past ten years. It is time to refurbish this landscaping with better-suited trees. We residents would like to have meaningful input, which we did not have last time – and not for lack of trying.

Sidewalk Power Washing. Quarterly please, from Doheny to Sunset Plaza.

Neighborhood Watch Group. There are 17 such groups in the city. We sponsor the National Night Out block parties, neighborhood annual meetings and host websites and other activities. These events are usually supported by individual volunteers or homeowner associations with occasional contributions from nearby businesses, depending on the event. Some neighborhoods are larger than others. Our WeHo Heights Neighborhood Association represents 1,000+ homes and is one of – if not the – the largest in the city. It adds up.

We would like to see a line-item added to city’s annual budget for “Neighborhood Watch Group Entertainment Expenses” in the amount of $50,000 (roughly $3,000 per neighborhood). Groups could submit expenses on an annual or semi-annual basis to the Neighborhood Watch coordinator for reimbursement up to a maximum ceiling depending on neighborhood size. Any funds not used would be put towards the next year’s budget. We can worry about inflation at a later date. This would be a much fairer system than the burden of these good-will functions falling on condo associations, homeowners and individuals.

WeHo Heights Neighborhood Specific. More streetlights on all five streets (Sherbourne is the worst), ideas for traffic calming, more dog poop stations (please).

Lastly, when is free WiFi-for-All coming to WeHo? Over 70 cities in the United States already offer free WiFi, including seven in California. Santa Monica has it. We have heard that it is in the works here.

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Development Woes
Development Woes
3 years ago

Aside from the billboards and positive points illustrated by Elyse Eisenberg, Weho needs some current comprehensive visioning as to the concept and direction of the Dunset Dtrip from one end to the other. Without such action there will be a lost opportunity and Willy Nilly development will result. At the very least let’s have long range planning invite architecture schools to request projects that envision concepts so we can view actual examples rather than endless discussions that take an eternity to take shape. Otherwise we will again have the resulting “place holders” that have little architectural or aesthetic integrity propping… Read more »

Barbara Hamaker
Barbara Hamaker
3 years ago

Ok I have heard enough about the crowned prince of West Hollywood: The Sunset Strip. Quarterly sidewalk power-washing for the Strip? How about a once-in-a-lifetime sidewalk power washing for Fountain Avenue? Fountain is as everyone knows the West Hollywood Freeway. At a City presentation of a new system of sidewalk cleaning for Santa Monica Blvd a few months ago, I suggested the City apply some of that same commercial cleaning and care to Fountain Avenue. Several city officials present simultaneously said “Fountain is residential” and that ended that non-conversation then and there. Being a minority of one I shut up.… Read more »

PeteP
PeteP
3 years ago

Great suggestions. I used to live a half block above Sunset (inside L.A.) and was always surprised at the way WeHo treated the strip. It was a source of revenue that was basically walled off from the rest of the city so it could be ignored (cul-de-sacs installed on Alta Loma, Olive and Hammond, fencing on WSH Park, etc.). I thought that the original development agreement for the Millennium project (now Sunset/La Cienega) included money to fund a traffic signal synchronization system. Wonder if someone could check on what happened there.