The latest battle in a long-running war between financially and politically powerful companies that own billboards on the Sunset Strip goes before the West Hollywood City Council tonight.
The Council will consider a proposal by Ace Outdoor Advertising to place an unusually sized 48-foot-tall by 14-foot-wide billboard atop the Rainbow Bar and Grill at 9015 Sunset Blvd. near North Wetherly Drive. With the pole on which it would be mounted, the sign would extend 110 feet above the ground.
For Ace to install the billboard, which is taller than the current 60-foot height limit, the Council will have to amend the zoning for the property and also enact a “development agreement.” Such an agreement is conditioned on the billboard being “creative” and providing benefits to the city. In the case of this billboard, the benefits will be nearly $200,000 in annual fees for 20 years. Ace makes money by charging advertisers for placement on the billboard.
With donations of $41,000, Ace is a major backer of the re-election campaigns of City Council members and of their other political ventures. Councilmember John Duran is by far the biggest beneficiary of Ace’s donations, having received $37,500 from Ace and from Alexander Bilanzich, its president, and members of his family. Those donations include support for Duran’s 2013 re-election campaign and for his unsuccessful campaign this summer for the 3rd District seat on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. Councilmember Jeffrey Prang has received $1,500 for his last Council re-election campaign and for his current campaign for L.A. County Assessor. Councilmembers Abbe Land and John Heilman and Mayor John D’Amico each has received $500 from Ace.
The City Council first approved the Ace billboard proposal in 2010. However, opponents of the billboard, backed by competitors of Ace, submitted a proposal for a referendum to challenge the Council’s approval. In response, the Council repealed the ordinance.
Then in 2011, the Council approved the Ace proposal again, acting against the recommendation of the Planning Commission. One issue raised by the Commission was that Ace was proposing to put the new billboard on a pole over the Rainbow instead of replacing a sign already on the Rainbow’s roof. The municipal code states that a creative billboard “shall alter an existing billboard without changing its location” which would be slightly altered by using the pole.
But, again faced with a possible lawsuit, the Council reversed its 2011 approval. In 2012 the Council asked city staffers to review new and proposed billboards on Sunset Boulevard and update a city plan for the area after that review. But when city staffers told the Council the review would take longer than anticipated, the Council directed them to proceed with reviewing Ace’s application. The application was endorsed by the Planning Commission at an October meeting.
Flyers were distributed by an anonymous source asking local residents to oppose Ace’s application before the Planning Commission. The flyers portrayed the proposed billboard as a campaign sign saying “Vote Republican,” an appeal not likely to play well in progressive and overwhelmingly Democratic West Hollywood. In earlier campaigns against Ace, robocalls financed by anonymous parties alleged that Alexander Bilanzich of Ace is a Republican and calling out its headquarters in Utah, a politically conservative state. Bilanzich, however, is not the political conservative his business competitors claim him to be according to Steve Afriat, his lobbyist in this matter.
Ace already has four billboards on Sunset Boulevard. They are at 8535 Sunset, 8730 Sunset, 8901 Sunset and 8906 Sunset.