The City of Los Angeles recently voted to ban billboards and begin to get a handle on how many signs are in the city. The City does not know the number of billboards in its jurisdiction, and some signs have been in existence for years without permits. Los Angeles is now faced with the job of hiring inspectors, undertaking the very large job of developing a complete inventory of existing billboards, and then removing all illegal non-conforming signs. The project is likely to take years to complete.
The problem of uncontrolled billboards stems from years of neglecting to enforce ordinances already on the books. Now, officials do not even know the magnitude of the work that lies ahead. Many signs in Los Angeles have no permit sticker posted anywhere on the sign, so it is impossible to know if a valid permit exists without time consuming research. In most cities, a permit must be prominently displayed on the pole supporting a billboard. Most cities inspect signs at least once per year to assure that the signs remain in compliance with all regulations. Some jurisdictions inspect more often than annually. Many billboards in Los Angeles have also been changed and modified without obtaining the proper approval. For instance, some signs known as 30-sheet Poster Panels have been retrofitted to become Premier Panels, or Stack Wraps, that double the size of the advertising faces from 300 square feet to 600 square feet. Since no permit is posted on most signs, it is difficult to determine if the conversion was done legally.
After years of weak enforcement of existing sign codes, some billboards are even erected in the front yard of residential properties. In other cases, billboards are in a position that encroaches on the exiting right of way. Some signs may be taken down because they are illegal for a wide variety of reasons.
Taking inventory of the number and legal status of all billboards is now going to be a large and difficult job. Other cities can take a lesson from Los Angeles and keep up with the job each year. They can pay more attention to sign control regulations before signs grow into a costly and time-consuming job.