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Billboard Tax Initiative in West Hollywood Already Embroiled in Controversy

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One of Mike McNeilly's "art" supergraphics | Photo by mondolind via LAist Featured Photos on Flickr


One of Mike McNeilly's "art" supergraphics | Photo by mondolind via LAist Featured Photos on Flickr
A petition to put a local billboard tax measure on a future West Hollywood ballot has been submitted to city hall and it already has city leaders on the defense. Even before a petition has been approved for circulation -- enough residents need to sign it in order to be placed on the ballot -- City Councilmember Jeffrey Prang this afternoon sent out a "voter advisory."

"I wanted to make you are aware of an initiative that has been filed in the City of West Hollywood and will likely be circulated for signatures, under the guise of an 'advertising tax' on billboards," wrote Prang. "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. It actually carries a rather sneaky and deceptive clause which would not be good for our City."

As Prang explains, the initiative would place a 7% excise tax on off-site signage throughout the small city. "It also appears that the initiative contains 'Trojan Horse' type language that would allow some building owners automatic rights to install tall walls and other signage that they currently cannot install without going through an approval and permitting process. 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."

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But the initiative's author, Sunset Strip, Inc. says there's nothing sneaky about it. In an e-mail to Curbed LA, Mike McNeilly of supergraphic company Sky Tag says, "The so-called 'Trojan Horse' is presented to allow other property owners in West Hollywood the same rights as others who have been granted these rights by the City." He says any new tall walls along Santa Monica and Beverly boulevards, as proposed in the initiative, will still have to meet "the current standards for tall wall permits" in the city. Additionally, it could raise $4.2 million for the city.

Prang said the city attorney is "preparing a more extensive legal analysis on the effect of the proposed" initiative. He also plans to have city staff "educate the public about the initiative and its potential impact" on West Hollywood.