By Matt Wilhalme, 7/21/2011
Council Considers Fees on Four Signs Predating Cityhood
Four billboards on the Sunset Strip are being physically altered, allowing the City of West Hollywood to collect fees on the signs. Because the signs predate the existence of West Hollywood, they have been permitted to remain at their current locations without requiring the owner to pay any fees to the city. However, while current law does not allow the city to tax the billboards, if a billboard owner wishes to physically alter a sign, outside of its grandfathered rights, a new development agreement is required, giving the city power at the negotiating table to request billboard fees.
Motions on four billboards came before the West Hollywood City Council at public hearings earlier this week, with billboard owners requesting size changes to their signs. The city now stands to gain nearly $2.7 million over the next 20 years for each sign – a grand total of more than $10.7 million.
On July 18, the council discussed two billboard replacements located at 8335 Sunset Blvd. and at 8535 Sunset Blvd. In both cases, the owners sought to replace a double-sided, smaller billboard with one that would extend 14-feet by 48-feet – at a maximum height above the ground of 70-feet and 68-feet, respectively.
The council also considered two requests to install new billboards on top of The Grafton Hotel at 8462 Sunset Blvd. and at the Key Club at 9039 Sunset Blvd.
Mayor John Duran said more billboards are one of the last things he would like to see installed in West Hollywood. Duran, however, is a fan of generating revenue on the signs that are already a part of the landscape.
“It’s aggravated me that we have the billboards,” Duran said. “In my mind, they are a part of the [city’s landscape], but the billboards escape tax free. Every hotel, restaurant, retailer, bar, and music venue pays taxes to support impacts, but billboards were untouched, and to me they should have had [to pay a] fair share.”
Before going to the city council, the proposed billboard changes were heard on June 2 the planning commission, which made recommendations. For the site at 8335 Sunset Blvd., in a 6-1 vote, the commission rejected the proposal and made a recommendation to deny the changes. The city council, however, approved the request.
“We were just offering advice,” said Alan Bernstein, chair of the planning commission and the sole vote in favor of the change at 8335 Sunset Blvd. “My opinion is that I would hope that since the planning commission is essentially volunteers, and local experts in land use, the council would be interested in our opinion, and I have every reason to believe they are, but they are not obligated to enact our opinion. It is not a mistake when they, in their reflected wisdom, go in a different direction. The council often has access to other information and has a vantage broader than our vantage, and I have no doubt they make well-considered decisions.”
Duran noted that while the planning commission does make recommendations that the council often agrees with, the council does have to take into consideration outside factors like that of revenue generation.
“We have to consider the revenue that is generated that’s outside of a land use evaluation where they do not think about how many poor people that money will feed,” Duran said.
But Bernstein said, that while “traditionally, the planning commission has not concerned itself with financial impacts, almost to a pride … there are now significant (development) applications, and I believe we have to give some consideration.”