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Tax Billboard Campaign Already Clouded in Controversy

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We posted on Friday about a somewhat mysterious website and press release that came out under the name Tax Billboard Act.  Council member Abbe Land wasted no time in putting out word that this appeared to be a “trojan horse” for ulterior motives… namely to be able to put up signs in locations where they currently have to go through an approval and permitting process.

Quite a bit more info and controversy surfaced today about it.  The biggest news was about who was behind it… and that would be a guy named Mike McNeilly of SkyTag, according to Curbed LA.  Council member Jeff Prang also put out a “voter alert” today warning people to be careful about what they were signing if they were presented with a petition on the subject.

This "postcard" type graphic appears on the Tax Billboard Act website, which is backed by SkyTag, a company in the in the business of covering buildings with massive advertising images.

“It would basically allow unregulated placement of billboards and tall walls on some of the City’s main thoroughfares without any local control or authority,” said council member Jeff Prang in his voter alert message.

But forget about the details for a moment. Let’s just say that there seems to be something fishy about a website that appears to be against billboards, tall walls and supergraphics that is sponsored by someone with a direct interest in that industry.

The website has quite a few graphics that seem to portray billboards as a blight, and calling for a tax on the industry on top of it all seems like it would lead a reasonable person to conclude that it is putting forward an anti-billboard campaign.

An anti-billboard campaign seems to be the exact opposite of what is going on here. Since the campaign is sponsored by a company or person with a vested interest in that industry, it seems logical to conclude that the campaign isn’t in any way anti-billboard (or other form of outdoor advertising).

On our original post on the subject, someone posted a comment along with the entire press release from the campaign.  Presumably, that was someone affiliated with the campaign, and they noted, “FYI: The Initiative does NOT allow for any new billboards in West Hollywood.”

But is that really a forthright statement?  What isn’t being said here?  Is this something about the definition of “billboard” vs. other type of sign? In the post over at Curbed LA with updated information today, McNeilly sure sounds like he is talking about signs being posted where there are no signs now.

Frankly, we’re neither pro-billboard or anti-billboard (using that term broadly to cover the outdoor advertising industry).  Billboards and outdoor signs can be cool and exciting, such as up on the Sunset Strip.  Perhaps the “tall walls” that SkyTag is known for are even better alternatives to the traditional rectangular billboards around town, but that’s beside the point.

What isn’t is that it is troubling (perhaps even insulting) to be presented with a “campaign” that isn’t what it seems… or at the very least, isn’t very good at communicating frankly about what it is up to, who is behind it, and what they are getting out of it.

Sneaky and deceptive are actually the terms that council member Jeff Prang used in a “voter advisory” he put out today about the likely event that the initiative could be circulated for signatures around town. “While some may think that this could generate additional revenue for the City, the reality is that this initiative does much more than simply provide for the taxation of billboards,” he wrote. “It actually carries a rather sneaky and deceptive clause which would not be good for our City.”

So far, this Tax Billboard Act simply stinks on the basis of how the proposal was presented to the public.  If this is such a great idea, why hasn’t the City put it forward, or anti-billboard activists?

It seems like a bad idea to let the billboard industry dictate their own terms, and for the City to lose the  leverage of approving or denying their requests in dealing with them.  Based on the way this has been presented to the public, without being completely up front about who is behind it and why, it seems like an especially bad idea.

If the City has left money on the table in the form of a tax, that should be investigated.  If that needs to be rectified, then surely there are ways to do so without giving up control on where these signs and billboards can be placed.  That is the most valuable leverage that the people, via our elected representatives, have in our dealings with the companies.  Giving this up would seem to make poor business sense in any strategy textbook.

Darin Weeks is the Publisher of Weho Daily. He holds a B.S. in Economics from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, with concentrations in Strategic Management and Electronic Commerce.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. William Board

    August 2, 2010 at 11:15 PM

    To clarify the facts about the Tax Billboard Act and the “trojan horse”, which sounds more like a ride the billboard companies want the media to take to divert the publics attention from the very real positive financial impact this Initiative will have for West Hollywood.

    Conservative estimates of over $4,200,000.00 paid annually to the people and the City of West Hollywood for allowing the billboard companies this great financial privilege.( conservative billboard revenue in WEHO $60,000,000.00 annually)

    In fairness, billboard companies should be required to give back a fair share of these revenues to the community through the “Tax Billboard Act” Initiative.

    Billboard Millions vs The Peoples Pennies.

    There is only one fair side to this issue and that is the side of the People of West Hollywood.

  2. admin

    August 2, 2010 at 11:26 PM

    You say that the trojan horse is something the BILLBOARD companies are putting forward to the media? Isn’t it a concept put out by the City of West Hollywood as part of an argument against the billboard companies? Statements such as this only make me more skeptical of the campaign.

  3. Brian Hamilton

    August 3, 2010 at 9:47 AM

    I’m a bit confused, but it sounds like a quid pro quo proposal: The City makes more revenue (taxes) from the ad companies in exchange for fewer restrictions upon the placement and size of billboards. Am I understanding this correctly?

  4. admin

    August 3, 2010 at 10:10 AM

    Brian, if that is the proposal, then that should be what is proposed clearly in the initiative, rather than trying to hide that part. But even that argument has problems. The website and press releases, and even the comments posted in favor of the initiative on this website, make a strong case that West Hollywood simply deserves to be compensated based on the existing billboards and having to live with them… without making a case for the trade off. As such, the tax revenue should come without having to loosen the restrictions on placement. Additional revenue might then come directly from those installations that are granted special permission outside of the existing rules and permitted signs. Further, an across-the-board tax on all outdoor advertising in the city seems like an unfair way to shift the costs of the benefits received by a few companies and property owners to the rest of the signs placed throughout the city. That would almost certainly cut into the revenue of a property owner on Holloway and La Cienega but instead only benefit a sign and property owner, say, perhaps on Beverly.

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RAGE is Latest Venue to Fall Victim to the Pandemic

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Another LGBTQ+ Nightlife Destination Has Fallen Victim to the Pandemic

WEST HOLLYWOOD (L.A. Magazine) — Rage nightclub has been a destination for LGBTQ+ nightlife in the bustling Santa Monica Boulevard corridor of West Hollywood for decades. Now, nearly 40 years after first opening its doors, the club has announced it has permanently closed, yet another local business to collapse amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rage nightclub management lays some portion of the blame on their landlord, Monte Overstreet. The club’s now-former general manager, Ron Madrill, told Q Voice News that rent for the location was already “very high” prior to operations shutting down in March. He says he believes an impasse over rent payments may have contributed to Rage’s closure.

Overstreet also reportedly owns the space formerly occupied by neighboring bar Flaming Saddles Saloon, which also announced […]

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21 Workers Test Positive for Coronavirus at Rock n Roll Ralphs

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Workers protest outside Ralphs in Hollywood where 21 have tested positive for coronavirus

HOLLYWOOD (KTLA) — Workers rallied Friday outside a Ralphs store in Hollywood where 21 people have tested positive for the coronavirus.

The group called on the store to take more aggressive action when staff test positive for the virus, and to ramp up efforts to protect the grocery store employees, who are considered essential workers on the front lines of the pandemic.

They said they speak for thousands of workers who are afraid they aren’t getting enough protection as the virus continues to spread countywide, infecting more than 24,000 as of Friday.

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‘Stay Put, Order In’ and Dine With Friends on Zoom, Says Mayor

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WEST HOLLYWOOD — WeHo is home to some of the best restaurants in the world and our community members are used to gathering around restaurant tables and enjoying meals together. Now, there’s an opportunity to, instead, gather around kitchen tables at home and enjoy a meal (or many!) while supporting our local restaurants.

“One of the worst things about the Safer At Home directive is being disconnected from friends, neighbors, and the city around us,” said City of West Hollywood Mayor John D’Amico. “Don’t be alone if you don’t have to be – take advantage of the technology out there and invite a friend to Zoom in for Ziti or share some Farfalle over FaceTime.”

Mealtime is a wonderful opportunity to connect with friends, family, and loved ones using virtual teleconferencing technology, while partaking in your favorite delivered or takeout food.

City Encourages Residents to Support Local Restaurants During Safer At Home Orders

Many West Hollywood restaurants remain open and are offering takeout, curbside, and delivery meals, which are sensitive to social distancing during the emergency. The City of West Hollywood and the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce have teamed up to offer a directory of “Stay Put, Order In” eateries in West Hollywood, which is accessible by visitingwww.weho.org/coronavirus (click the “Stay Put, Order In” link!) or www.wehochamber.com/dinein. This list is updated daily.

“We need to start hanging out together, and talking, and seeing each other again. So, why not plan to #WeHoDinnerConnect this week – maybe Saturday at 8 p.m.? Or Sunday at 7 p.m.? Or even just 15 minutes of screen-to-screen gossip,” said Mayor D’Amico. “And you don’t have to cook a thing… local restaurants have meals and menus tailored to take-away choices and they’re ready to send food over to your house or make arrangements for you to pick it up.”

If picking up food, remember to wear face coverings, which are required to enter essential businesses.

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