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Council Chastizes City Attorney, Supports Signage for L.A. Live's Regal Cinemas

By Eric Richardson
Published: Friday, October 23, 2009, at 02:25PM
City Hall Ed Fuentes

Chief Deputy City Attorney Bill Carter represented the office of Carmen Trutanich at Friday's hearing, in which multiple Councilmembers voiced their displeasure with the office's handling of the billboard ban.

Members of the Los Angeles City Council berated the office of City Attorney Carmen Trutanich on Friday during a three hour hearing over signage proposed for the exterior of the Regal Cinemas at L.A. Live.

Council voted 12-0 to direct Building and Safety to issue the signage permits, and AEG CEO Tim Leiweke said that he expects to see the permits issued today. He also said that his company is moving forward on plans for other approved signage on the project, including a 10,000 square foot LED sign on the side of the L.A. Live hotel tower.

"I'm just glad we're beyond it," Leiweke told reporters after the vote. "We just want to get on and be good citizens here and hope that I have enough guts and age left in me to go develop another project in this city."

Leiweke believes that the Council's actions today represent support for other signage approved as part of the L.A. Sports and Entertainment District Plan. "I think they sent a very strong message with a 12-0 vote that they are going to honor the legal agreement that the City has with us."

One of those remaining signs is an 8,000-square-foot LED display that AEG and Panasonic announced in January. That sign will move forward. "We have the structure, we've bought the LED boards, said Leiweke.

Multiple Councilmembers expressed their frustration with Trutanich, who was reported to have threatened charges to City officials, including Councilwoman Jan Perry, if permits for the signs were issued.

Deputy Chief City Attorney Bill Carter presented his office's case that allowing the Regal signs would open the City up to additional lawsuits over signage. He disagreed with the Council's take on the provision in the August billboard ban that allowed signage for projects with permits already approved, stating that only the final sign permit was eligible for consideration there.

The Regal Cinemas opens on Tuesday, with all 14 screens showing the Michael Jackson film "This is It."

blogdowntown issued live updates from the Council hearing, the contents of which can be found below.

10:40am -- Council is underway, with presentations and proclamations. Roughly fifty union construction workers just showed up in support of AEG, as have the company's legal counsel and Senior V.P. Ted Tanner. CEO Tim Leiweke is expected to be here.

11:00am -- Presentations and proclamations just finished. The meeting itself is getting underway.

11:25am -- Public comment just finished and the signage item has started. Perry is making opening comments, asking Building & Safety, Planning and others to come to the table.

11:30am -- Perry runs through history of specific plan for L.A. Live area and her confusion why they have not been issued. AEG CEO Tim Leiweke is in the room. There are 18 comment cards already in. They're making one last call for comments.

Michael LoGrande, Chief Zoning Administrator, started to speak when he was interupted by the City Attorney's office asking to go into closed session. Perry is objected. Trutanich's earlier comment on the topic "leads me to believe my interests would not be adequately represented," says Perry.

11:35 -- Ed Reyes says "I'm just going to brutally blunt ... We approved it." He doesn't sound too happy with Carmen Trutanich. "We have to decide as policy makers what's in front of us and direct the departments to do their jobs."

11:45am -- Deputy City Attorney (not Trutanich) is asking that closed session discussion occur before any direction to departments.

Rosendahl makes motion that Council wants to hear from City Attorney right now. No second.

Still discussion of what will happen procedurally.

11:50am -- Ray Chan, interim head of Building & Safety, says that he and his staff believe the Regal's six signs are vested. City Attorney objects to any more comments. Council overrules.

"We were told by the City Attorney that it should be the Court to issue the vesting determination," says Chan. He reiterates that charges were threatened if the department approved the signs.

11:55am -- Bill Carter, Chief Deputy City Attorney, reiterates the office's view that, given lawsuits, there are only two ways a sign is legal. "One, if you have a sign permit, which AEG does not have. Two, if you have done substantial work pursuant to that sign permit."

Carter says that his office told AEG that on-site signs were fine. "That's what this is about," he says in reference to off-site signs.

12:00pm -- City Attorney Carter asks why AEG didn't go get sign permits earlier. "I think someone should ask them that," he said.

Michael LoGrande points out that the L.A. Sports and Entertainment District Specific Plan has different definitions for "on-site" and "off-site" signs. It considers more things to be on-site.

Chan says that his department is confused why the City Attorney says Building & Safety doesn't have vesting determination rights.

12:05pm -- Councilman Rosendahl is asking whether he can ask AEG some questions.

Carter has a "continued objection" that legal discussion should be in closed session.

AEG is sending up its General Counsel.

12:10pm -- AEG lawyer: "We have been assured over and over again ... that our vested right interests cannot be overruled by any changes in the code."

"We believe the City should comply with [the vested interest rights in] that August ordinance."

AEG CEO Tim Leiweke is up next.

12:15pm -- "I'm embarrassed that we have to take you through this today," said Leiweke. "I think it's a terrible waste of your time."

"You do not negotiate with a bully," said Leiweke in reference to why the company did not go to court with the City Attorney for clarification.

12:20pm -- Deputy Chief City Attorney is reiterating that his office is against only off-site signs.

"I heard Mr. Leiweke say 'I'm not a lawyer.' That's right, he's not," said Carter. "I'm a lawyer."

"AEG has the right to install their on-site signs," said Carter. "They will not open with blank walls. The Michael Jackson signs, for instance, can be installed."

12:30pm -- Councilman Bernard Parks says that he's concerned that Councilmembers believed things that the City Attorney is now saying is no longer true. "We all left here believing that when you were in that situation, the ordinance does not affect that," he said, referring to the Galen Center, Coliseum and L.A. Live.

Public comment is starting, with Central City Association head Carol Schatz up first. "The City needs to keep its promises," she said.

12:35pm -- At the core of this issue seems to be the agreements that AEG has signed with its sponsors. Leiweke said that if the permits were not issued, the company would go into default with its agreements.

I asked AEG spokesman Michael Roth whether the company believes it could go put up the Michael Jackson signs right now, and he emphasized that this is about the bigger picture of the city honoring its contract.

12:55pm -- Public comment continues. Most speakers have been in favor and have emphasized that the City needs to honor the rules it sets out. Perennial City Hall gadfly John Walsh is up now, creating theatrics.

1:00pm -- Public comment is over, and Councilman Tom LaBonge is speaking now, reminding Council of the long history the City has of pushing for this project and revitalizing what was a rundown neighborhood.

1:05pm -- Councilman Paul Koretz repeats Parks point that Council believed the ordinance passed in August would have no impact on the L.A. Live signs.

City Attorney says the Council was voting on a permanent ban, and voting on the language of the ordinance.

But: "Whatever decision you make today, we will represent you."

1:20pm -- Councilman Dennis Zine is proposing that AEG agree to just do on-site signs until the judge rules on whether the project's signage rights are vested.

City Attorney doesn't believe that's a viable solution, because baseline municipal code has stricter square footage regulations.

1:30pm -- Councilman Herb Wesson is speaking, and has some harsh words for the City Attorney. "I did not hire an attorney to put my back to the wall," he said.

1:35pm -- "I'm really wrestling with the notion of trust with the City Attorney," said Councilman Ed Reyes. He accuses the City Attorney's office of wanting to create policy.

Alarcon: "The intent of the City Council was clear ... but somehow, in the City Attorney's opinion, the ordinance does not capture the City Council's intent." He says the City Attorney erred in creating the ordinance.

1:40pm -- This period after public comment has turned rough for the City Attorney. Councilman Alarcon is taking his turn raking the office over the coals.

Basic gist of the discussion: We meant one thing and yet you did another. How do we fix it?

1:55pm -- Councilwoman Jan Perry is up again, after starting this whole item off nearly three hours ago.

Perry is asking for a correction to the ordinance passed in August. She's also asking for the CAO to look for funding for outside counsel to represent her if the City Attorney comes after her.

Motion (to support Building & Safety's opinion) is up for vote now and passes 12-0.

For more backstory on this issue, read our Saturday story on the dispute.

Other stories from the L.A. Times:


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