The West Hollywood City Council voted 3 to 1 Monday night to postpone a long-delayed decision about permitting alternation of a controversial “tall wall” billboard at 8730 Sunset Boulevard near Sherbourne Avenue. The Council asked city staffers to attempt to negotiate an agreement that would have the billboard owner pay for that privilege.
West Hollywood Properties and Regency Outdoor Advertising had asked the Council to reject the city Planning Commission’s April decision to permit Ace Outdoor Advertising, which has the contract to sell advertising on the 10,858-square-foot west wall of the building, to raise that billboard space to where a sign now showing the building’s address is located. Renovations to an adjacent building in 2008 now block the lower portion of the billboard space.
Regency attorney Victor De La Cruz argued that the conditional use permit for the billboard does not permit moving the sign without amending the zoning code or granting a “development agreement.” A development agreement is a contract between the city and a developer that guarantees certain rights to the developer for a specified time in exchange for benefits provided to the city.
“All Regency wants is a level playing field. It is not too much to expect the code to apply equally,” De La Cruz said.
The city’s Planning Department in April recommended that the tall wall extension be rejected. But the Planning Commission rejected that recommendation in a 3 to 1 vote. The city Planning Department in May approved the modification in a three to one vote, with commissioner Marc Yeber, appointed by Mayor Abbe Land, voting no, and commissioner John Altchsul, appointed by Councilmember John D’Amico, abstaining.
The council’s primary concern was the lack of a “public benefit” from the tall wall. The city derives no income from the lucrative billboard business except through business license taxes. But in recent years it has entered development agreements that would have billboard owners pay the city $2.73 million over a 20-year period. The council asked city staffers to see if such a development agreement could be negotiated with Ace.
Mayor Abbe Land recused herself from the proceedings because she lives within 500 feet of the billboard. Councilmember John Heilman, who expressed approval of the extension, voted against the postponement. Larry Block, a candidate in the March 2015 City Council election, suggested that Councilmember Jeffrey Prang recuse himself because he has hired Steve Afriat, lobbyist for Ace, as his campaign manager in his bid to become Los Angeles County Assessor.
Prang did not address Block’s comment, but Afriat responded that he has not yet been formally hired by Prang. Afriat did, however, issue a recent press release formally announcing Prang’s candidacy. Afriat served as the campaign manager for both Prang and Councilmember John Duran during their March 2013 council election and has represented Heilman and Land in previous election campaigns. Prang and Heilman were supposed to present the Council with campaign reform recommendations in September to address concerns about managers of City Council candidates’ election campaigns such as Afriat also lobbying the Council on behalf of business interests. To date they haven’t delivered any proposal.