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Signage Wars Continue: City Seeks Millions from Statue of Liberty Sign Firm; Sign Company Sues AEG for Unfair Competition

By Eric Richardson
Published: Tuesday, September 20, 2011, at 07:34AM
Skytag / California Market Center Eric Richardson [Flickr]

This Statue of Liberty graphic on the California Market Center is one of the three Downtown locations named in the city's suit against SkyTag and its founder, Michael McNeilly.

The rash of massive wall signs that sprouted up in the last days of 2008 and first week of 2009 may be mostly gone now, but their legal fallout continues. The City Attorney's office on Friday filed a case against sign company Sky Tag and its owner, Michael McNeilly, seeking millions in penalties for unpermitted signs, including at three Downtown locations.

SkyTag's Statue of Liberty graphics were a head-scratcher for most Angelenos. McNeilly claimed the pieces were art, but City Attorney's office disagreed. An injunction kept the signs in place until it was thrown out in the middle of 2010, but the courts did eventually side with the city's stance that the graphics were illegal.

Now the city wants McNeilly to pay up. It seeks $2,500 for each day an illegal sign was standing. The filing can be downloaded as a PDF from the City Attorney's website.

Among the 17 offending locations are three Downtown. Two—California Market Center at 110 E. 9th and the Mayfair Hotel at 1256 W. 7th—carried McNeilly's Statue of Liberty graphic. The third, on the Macy's Plaza garage at 8th and Hope, was illegally converted from an on-site painted ad to an off-site vinyl ad.

The rush of ads at the start of 2009 was an attempt to establish locations that would be grandfathered in under new city signage rules. A signage ordinance rewrite that has been underway since 2008 was last week again continued by the Council's planning committee. It will return in October.


Unfair Competition? Two Signage Fights Take Different Views

All may be fair in love and war, but in the ongoing fight over the city's signage rules it would appear that fair is defined quite differently depending on which side one is on.

When the City Attorney's office filed suit against SkyTag on Friday, it cited the Unfair Competition Law as the basis for its $2,500 per day penalties.

Another signage case takes a different view of unfair competition.

In June, sign company LA Outdoor sued AEG, alleging unfair competition on the part of the L.A. Live developer. AEG, the complaint said, had made LA Outdoor's billboards less desirable by offering flashy signs at the entertainment complex. AEG is "interfering with use and enjoyment of signs owned by Plaintiffs," LA Outdoor said.

Or, as AEG put it in its response:

"Plaintiffs are outdoor advertisers who have filed this case solely because they claim that companies prefer to advertise on Defendant's signs as opposed to whatever signs Plaintiffs may have to offer."

The developer isn't buying the argument.

"[LA Outdoor's] Complaint is a clumsy effort to shake down the high-profile owner of the L.A. Live sports and entertainment development by making far-fetched, general assertions in the apparent hopes of getting a nuisance payoff," said AEG in its response.

LA Outdoor also alleges that AEG is illegally selling "on-site" sign locations as "off-site" signs, allowing advertisers that have no presence on the L.A. Live campus. Those signs are allowed under AEG's development agreement with the city, but LA Outdoor has good reason to at least attempt the fight: On July 11, the company sued the city after its supergraphic spot on the side of a Public Storage building at 6007 W. Venice was cited for illegally converting to an off-site sign.

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