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L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa Likes Animal Shelters More than Small Businesses?

Giant supergraphic banners were recently placed on every Los Angeles city animal shelter by private donors, prominently displaying their organizational logos. The first engulfed the East Valley shelter in early September. There were no contracts or city permits for installation, according to city officials. But no action has been taken to remove them.

Yet, last week, just a few miles away, 10 small Valley businesses were issued hefty fines and citations by L.A. Code Enforcement for lettering or signage that merely "covers more than 10 percent of their window space." Is there a double standard in Los Angeles? And, if so, why?

Is L.A. more “friendly” to animals than small businesses? 

On Friday, November 4, 2011, the Los Angeles Daily News’ front-page story, “Sign Language,” showed the window of a small jewelry business in a strip mall in the San Fernando Valley with modest lettering on the window stating “JEWELRY Manufacturer,” the name of the owner, and “Wholesale to the Public.”

Seems like a sensible attempt to attract customers and survive in the Los Angeles business meltdown where many shopping malls are experiencing over 50% vacancy rate from failed entrepreneurs.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the City Council hold regular press conferences to declare Los Angeles is increasingly “business friendly.” But, according to the article, “Ten of the 16 owners of mostly mom-and-pop shops were cited on Wednesday for having signs that covered more than 10 percent of their window space. They can appeal the $356.16 citation -- but that would cost them $354 more in filing fees to do so.”

"It's a shakedown -- that's what I call it," Rusty Paramonov, owner of Exotic Fish and Reptiles, told the Daily News, adding that the neon sign spelling out the store's name had been in the window for more than a decade.

Department of Building & Safety officials said the code inspections were based on a complaint about one store. “That inspector noticed other violations, so began issuing citations, which come with a $336 inspection fee and a $20.16 "supplemental development surcharge,” said spokesperson David Lara.

Double-standard in L.A.?

But size and number of signs doesn’t seem to be a problem just a few miles away, where HUGE banners on Los Angeles Animal Services East and West Valley shelters cover the major part or entirety of buildings, telling us they are animal shelters. The Harbor shelter in San Pedro is not only covered with banners, but surrounded by signs of various organizations.

It’s not as if the community is unaware of the shelters. Property owners agreed in 2001 to pay $154 million to renovate or build seven of them. They won national architectural awards and are strategically placed in high-visibility locations on some of the most heavily traveled major thoroughfares in the San Fernando Valley and the rest of the city.

Are shelter banners also “advertising” private interests?

But, what is of special concern about these banners--estimated at up to 20 feet in height and as long as 70 feet--is that each of them bears a large logo of a “non-profit” group that is also engaged in a private business endeavor which is branded by the same logo. Could that put these donated banners in the realm of “advertising,” not just acknowledgement?

One such donor-entity is the Bernheim Foundation, where the logo is identical (other than color) to that of a local attorney’s music group and film production company. And, coincidently, his Foundation webpage is part of his law firm’s website.

The other banners—on different shelters--bear the unique logo of Best Friends Animal Society, which took in $51 million in 2009 in donations and earnings as a non-profit. But that same logo also appears on a webpage headed, “Best Friends Insurance Program - No More Homeless Pets.”[inmail_.title_]&mid=&ml=0

Since Best Friends is proclaiming partnership with the City of Los Angeles and L.A. Animal Services as it takes over the City’s new $19 million Northeast Valley Animal Shelter with no rent or other costs, it must be made clear to the public that selling pet insurance is a separate for-profit enterprise, not a City-sponsored program; and it must not be offered in any manner through L.A. Animal Services, its website, or L.A. animal shelters without City Council approval.

What is the price of putting your banner on an L.A. City Animal Shelter?

A September 4 e-mail asked GM Brenda Barnette, “…what did LAAS receive in return for Best Friends Animal Society's logo being displayed on the new banner hanging on the South LA shelter?”

Her response was, “Nothing. They are a donation just like the ones the Bernheim Foundations donated or the ones Found Animals donated previously.” That e-mail exchange was also cc’d to the Mayor’s office, so there’s no question that permission and approval came from the top.

When the deputy city attorney assigned to L.A. Animal Services was asked what guidelines and requirements were met in regard to placing these giant supergraphics, he responded that they “just popped up unexpectedly” and that the decision was made by LAAS General Manager Brenda Barnette.

Since Mr. Bernheim told the Daily News in an August 29, 2011, article that he paid $7,000 to have the beautiful, mature trees that shaded the East Valley shelter chopped down and the banners installed across the extensive frontage on a major boulevard, we must assume that the total amount spent for banners for the other shelters was proportional.

That’s certainly a steal in today’s advertising market, especially considering these heavy-duty vinyl banners are still up in November and are bolted into the shelter buildings, not just hung temporarily.

A city official also advised there was no bidding procedure regarding the banners. There’s no evidence any installation permits were required for public safety; and, in response to a California Public Records Act request to the City Attorney, City Administrative Office and LA Animal Services, there is no contract, agreement, nor other written documents to show how they got there.

Is this a new Los Angeles signage SOP for City Departments?

Apparently that’s not a standard policy for the City, because earlier this year the Department of Recreation and Parks sought to display much smaller signs in parks; and, according to Dennis Hathaway (July 30, 2011) on the “Ban Billboard Blight” website, this was the outcome: “

“The issue first surfaced late last year when the city’s Recreation and Parks Commission okayed a deal allowing signs for a Warner Bros. “Yogi Bear” movie in three city parks in exchange for $46,000.

“The ordinance went to the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) committee, but was never voted on. Instead, the city planning department made major changes, including a provision that allows digital and off-site signs as part of comprehensive sign programs as long as they’re not visible from the public-right-of-way or adjacent property. According to a May 11, 2011, letter from City Planning Director Michael LoGrande to members of the City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee, sites eligible for those sign programs could be cultural, sporting and city-owned facilities, including the L.A. Zoo and city parks.

“…The commission reversed itself after public outcry, and an ensuing media investigation by KCET’s SoCal Connected series revealed that the commission, in partnership with the non-profit L.A. Parks Foundation, had detailed plans for selling advertising in many parks and recreation facilities, including such popular areas as Griffith Park and Ocean Front Walk in Venice.

“City Attorney Carmen Trutanich’s office also told the commission that such signs would violate the city’s ban on any new off-site advertising. According to the new ordinance, the off-site signage in a comprehensive sign program would be limited to 10 per cent of the total signage in the affected area. Surrounding property owners would have to be notified, and a public hearing held by the CPC before the program could be put into effect.”

So, to all those small business owners struggling against local competition, untaxed/unregulated Internet dealers, and illegal sidewalk vendors that block your windows and doors, I suggest you form a non-profit arm of what’s left of your business, develop a recognizable logo on a banner about pet adoption or finding an animal shelter, and donate it to Los Angeles Animal Services for display.

You can see above that the field is crowded; but, hey, this is a way to do something good for animals, beat the City’s signage system with Mayor Antonio’s blessing, and soon it may be the only way to be seen!


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