A petition to tax existing billboards in West Hollywood was certified on Monday, but the city council wants more information about the legality of the ballot initiative, which is being spearheaded by the owner of an advertising company.
The initiative’s main financial backer is Mike McNeilly, of Beverly Hills-based Skytag, Inc., a company that specializes in large-scale, multi-story advertising.
The legal representative for McNeilly for his “Tax Billboard Initiative” is Colleen McAndrews, a Santa Monica-based lawyer who is listed as the applicant on the initiative. Proponents of the initiative include Katie Heidy, Dana Marotta and Frank Russo, who signed their name to the initiative. If approved by the council, it could be placed on the ballot next year.
The number of signatures required for the petition to be certified is 2,386. County elections officials found 2,744 signatures to be sufficient on the petitions.
In addition to asking voters to approve a seven-percent billboard tax, as written, the measure would also expand large outdoor advertisements to buildings on Santa Monica and Beverly Boulevards, alarming some residents who were not made aware of the expansion but who already signed the petition, thinking the tax would simply benefit city programs, officials said.
“This is really all about getting signage in the place they want it,” said Mayor John Heilman. “[The applicant] circulated a petition that was definitely misleading — some of the residents were told it would bring in AIDS clinics.”
Heilman said putting a tax on all existing billboards could be unconstitutional, and the West Hollywood City Attorney’s Office will be reviewing the initiative.
Proponents say it would bring in more revenue to the city, generating $70,000 for every $1 million in advertising revenues from these billboards. Calls to McAndrews and McNeilly were not returned by Wednesday.
During Monday’s meeting, representatives from the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce said they were opposed to the ballot initiative. McAndrews, who is listed as the applicant, also hired signature gatherers to sign the petitions, said Councilwoman Lindsey Horvath who is an entertainment advertising executive.
“The applicant touts how much money the city would make, but we need to take a look at what it would be like to have tall walls on Santa Monica and Beverly Boulevards,” Horvath said.
The council requested the city attorney report be presented at the regular council meeting on Nov.15. The council also asked for an environmental impact report to determine how the expansion of the tall walls would affect the area.
The proposed measure also would make it easier for advertisers to put up supergraphics along Santa Monica and Beverly Boulevards because they would not require a discretionary permit from the city. Supergraphics on Sunset Boulevard require a permit.
The West Hollywood ballot initiative is the latest in an ongoing debate in the Los Angeles area over taxing and regulating of multiple-story supergraphics — vinyl or plastic advertisements that typically wrap around buildings.
The Los Angeles City Council budget and finance committee on Monday also reviewed and rejected a proposal for a 12 percent tax on existing billboards. The tax would generate about $24 million a year for the city, and help close a $300 million budget deficit. Representatives from sign companies came to the budget and finance committee meeting to oppose the tax, arguing it would negatively affect business and job creation. The proposal will be heard next by the council’s Rules Committee before going to the full council for final approval.
Last month, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to ban all future supergraphics in the Hollywood area. There are now 32 supergraphic signs in Hollywood that will remain permitted — or grandfathered. Although the ads may change, the space is permitted for this type of signage, city officials said.
While they can bring in millions of dollars in revenue annually for property owners and advertisers, but supergraphics often upset residents who live near them.
On Thursday, Oct. 21, people associated with groups trying to end billboard expansion — including Ban Billboard Blight and Scenic America — will be protesting at the corner of Santa Monica and Westwood Boulevards at 11 a.m.
“I think it’s really out of control,” said Mary Tracy, president of Scenic America, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. “These signs are making the city an uglier place to live, and treating people like consumers, not citizens.”
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