Last updated: June 3, 2010 - 1:36pm
[Commentary] Spray paint your name on a freeway underpass and, if you're caught, you'll get fined up to $10,000 and maybe jailed. And you should be. Vandalism is a crime that can undermine communities by turning them into graffiti-ridden dumps. But erect an illegal billboard near the same freeway — or alter a legal sign by turning it around or enlarging it, for example — and you're protected, rather than punished, by state law. Your sign, and your contempt for the law in erecting or altering it, can be as damaging to neighborhood livability as any graffiti, but current law dictates that you can't be fined or otherwise punished for your act. At most, the owners of signs illegally placed near interstate highways and other roads that are part of the federal network can be asked to "cure" their illegal acts. In Los Angeles, where most signs facing freeways are banned, that means that if you break the law by turning your otherwise legal sign toward the freeway, the city can't fine you. It can only tell you to turn the sign back the way it was. And if you don't, well, it can tell you again. That gives billboard companies a choice: make lots of money by breaking the law and suffering no financial consequences, or be law-abiding suckers. Like all laws that encourage lawbreakers, the faulty portion of the Outdoor Advertising Act may be as bad as having no law at all. It must be changed, and the state Senate can begin to make a measured and appropriate change by passing SB 1470 by Mark Leno (D- San Francisco).
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