Electronic billboards can aid law enforcement by publicizing information during emergencies, the company behind them argues.
Electronic billboards can aid law enforcement by publicizing information during emergencies, the company behind them argues. (Dean Musgrove/Staff Photographer)

Clear Channel Outdoor executives are warning that a court order to remove nearly 100 digital signs will greatly hurt public safety in Los Angeles, and they plan to appeal the ruling.

The sign company was dealt a major blow last week when an appellate court ordered the take-down of about 100 digital signs in the city of Los Angeles.

The ruling favored a competing company, Summit Media, which sued the city over a 2006 deal that allowed certain media companies to put up digital billboards in exchange for removing some static signs.

Clear Channel Outdoor owns 79 of the 100 digital displays, which sign industry analysts estimate can bring $100,000 a month per sign in revenue.

In a letter sent Friday to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the City Council and other city officials, a Clear Channel Outdoor attorney argued the digital billboards provide vital public safety messages.

Attorney Sara Lee Keller sent officials a brief report detailing how Clear Channel Outdoor flashed public information messages during the San Diego (405) Freeway weekend closure in September, and the company's role in providing Amber Alerts.

"As this (report) makes clear for all to see, turning off the digital signs would not only impact Clear Channel Outdoor, it would have serious consequences for public safety," Keller wrote.

"For example, nearly 100 signs used for Amber Alerts for at-risk children, earthquake alerts and traffic emergencies would be turned off.


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The removal of the signs, Keller added, would mean the loss of a "significant public benefit." Keller went on to ask the City Council to pass legislation regulating digital signage.

City Council president Herb Wesson declined to comment on the letter.

Philip Recht, an attorney for Summit Media, believes Clear Channel Outdoor's goal is simply to hammer out a deal with the City Council.

"They are obviously desperate if they are claiming that somehow public safety is at stake," Recht said.

Keller's letter follows months of pressure from Clear Channel executives, who have employed numerous lobbyists to push the City Council to pass a digital sign ordinance.

Earlier this year, Councilmen Ed Reyes and Paul Krekorian introduced a motion, written by a Clear Channel lobbyist, asking the city to explore crafting new digital sign laws, and study how the signs could provide public benefits.

In her letter, Keller also told public officials that Clear Channel Outdoor plans to challenge the recent California Court of Appeal ruling.

The sign company will ask the court of appeals for a re-hearing, Jim Cullinan, spokesman for Clear Channel Outdoor, told the Daily News in an email. If that fails, Clear Channel Outdoor will appeal to the California Supreme Court, he added.

"Any motion for rehearing is just the latest attempt at delaying the removal of these illegal signs," said Timothy Alger, another attorney for Summit Media. "There's no legal basis for reconsideration by the Court of Appeal, and we're confident the motion will be denied."

CBS Outdoor owns about two dozen of the digital signs, and joined Clear Channel Outdoor in challenging Summit's lawsuit.

A representative for CBS Outdoor declined to comment.

dakota.smith@dailynews.com

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