West Hollywood, California (August 2, 2010) – Backers of a proposed initiative to tax outdoor advertising in West Hollywood have submitted a Notice of Intent to Circulate Petition to qualify their measure, called the Tax Billboard Act.
The municipal measure calls for taxing billboards and supergraphics at a 7 percent rate and “expanding the area for one or two tall wall signs on other major commercial thoroughfares.”
Michael McNeilly, head of Beverly Hills-based Skytag, Inc., which in the past counted the 8899 Beverly Boulevard Tall Wall among its clients, confirmed suspicions that Sunset Strip, Inc., a firm in which he has an interest, is sponsoring the measure.
WeHo News reported earlier this year on an attempt by 8899 Beverly’s owners to negotiate a development agreement to allow them to bring back the Tall Wall a federal court forced them to bring down in exchange for $850,000 and some landscaping.
No new hearing over the proposed development agreement to allow tall walls on Beverly Boulevard has yet been requested.
Blogger Dennis Hathaway, who operates banbillboardblight.org, told WeHo News he thought the “Act” was obviously more about that one building and “replacing the tall walls the court made him take down. It’s an end run around the system.”
According to Mr. Hathaway, Mr. McNeilly’s Skytag recently lost another court battle over illegal Supergraphic signs in Los Angeles.
Council member Jeff Prang agreed with Mr. Hathaway’s assessment, saying, “This measure is a scam; people should not support it,” adding that the city had already rejected the notion as unconstitutional.
Furthermore, he called it “a wolf hidden in sheep’s clothing,” promising to replace social service funding “lost” due to the bad economy.
Council member Abbe Land concurred, telling WeHo News, “This initiative is about much more than taxing billboards, which is most likely illegal. This is about allowing tall walls on Beverly and Santa Monica Blvds.”
The initiative promises to bring in tax revenue of as much as $4.2M a year, money that would be devoted to “an expansion of AIDS/HIV treatment and prevention programs, add community public spaces such as pocket parks and public enhancements for the new library, restore public safety funds for sheriff services, and continue funding for cultural affairs and community events.”
Council member Prang said the city of West Hollywood has given a thorough look at generating revenue from outdoor advertising, “and we cannot tax a single business,” he said, “so while it may sound appealing to tax billboards, it’s unlikely to make it through the courts.”
Initially, Mr. McNeilly hid his involvement in the Tax Billboard Act initiative; neither the press release nor the web site touting the measure had any contact information.
Mr. Hathaway reported tracking down a personal E mail address for Mr. McNeilly, which he wrote to asking questions about the initiative. He received answers to all of his questions, except for the identity of the correspondent or names of sponsors.
WeHo News made several calls to the people listed on the paperwork submitted to the city, with no calls returned; however, Mr. McNeilly sent WeHo News an E mail on Monday that identified himself as “a part of Sunset Strip Inc., which “is the only financial sponsor of this initiative… sunset Strip Inc. is not a billboard company.”
In that E mail Mr. McNeilly said he owns a residential property in the city and that he acted for the people of West Hollywood to “create millions of dollars of new revenue in West Hollywood to greater enhance the quality of living…”
Mr. McNeilly said “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 continued, “The section that allows for tall walls on Santa Monica and Beverly Blvd in West Hollywood still requires the location to meet ALL the current standards for tall wall permits in West Hollywood.
“Currently there is only 1 or 2 properties that may qualify in West Hollywood and if permitted they would be taxed as well.
“The Initiative does not allow for any new billboards or other off site signage in West Hollywood.”
Mr. Hathaway said that this municipal initiative stood as part of a multi-prong effort including the courts to open up lucrative Supergraphic spaces, which can command as much as $80,000 in certain places.
Having recently lost “a federal appellate court decision upholding the city’s right to ban new off-site and supergraphic signs,” said Mr. Hathaway, “attorneys for such sign companies as World Wide Rush and Skytag, Inc. say they intend to fight the ban on the grounds that it unconstitutionally restricts commercial speech, an issue they claim wasn’t addressed by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.”
See the actual Tax Billboard Act at http://www.taxbillboardact.com