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KCET’s Blistering Documentary: Billboards in City Parks

CATEGORY: In the News |
On Mar 4, 2015

Update: June, 2017 This is clearly a topic that refuses to go away as evidenced by a recent move in downtown city hall.

In 2011, Friends of Griffith Park understood billboards in the park were a bad idea; we still hold that position in 2017 because visitors coming into parklands are not coming to see billboards, they’re coming to see nature at it’s finest.
2017 0605 LAT Billboards, billboards everywhere? No thanks

Published in Griffith Park Reporter, Spring 2011

Just when you thought Los Angeles, billboard capital of the United States, had begun the process to reduce urban blight, along comes the City’s Recreation and Parks Commissioner with an attempt to move the billboards into City parks! A recent segment on KCET’s “SoCal Connected” exposed this plan to turn L.A.’s public parks into cash registers by renting park spaces, roofs, bench seats, walls and other available park space for signage.

The “SoCal Connected” segment “Show Me the Money” which originally aired on February 10th, featured extensive interviews with Mr. Barry Sanders, as President of the Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Commission. Sanders is also Chairman of the Los Angeles Parks Foundation, a non-profit entity that can take in tax-deductible “donations.” He is an attorney, retired from the law firm of Latham & Watkins. Latham & Watkins has done and continues to advise and provide legal services to the City of Los Angeles in many capacities.

KCET has produced a clear-cut exposé of Sanders’ conflict of interest – the hidden dual roles he has as both Recreation and Parks Commission President and L.A. Parks Foundation President. The feature segment illuminates how Sanders has worked hand-in-hand with the law firm of Latham & Watkins trying to create policies that benefit commercial interests. These policies target and exploit children, as well as violate the City’s billboard ordinance. The segment aired by KCET relied on interviews, City documents and correspondences obtained under the California Public Records Act.

(UPDATE: Marina del Rey Argonaut reports on Los Angeles Parks Foundation’s plan to sell ads on Venice Beach, too!)

When Sanders initially floated the idea at the Recreation and Parks Commission, Deputy City Attorney Arletta Brimsey warned the Commission that these signs – to be situated in City parks – pose a clear violation of City Law. Brimsey informed the Commission these signs depicting movies are prohibited in City parks. Brimsey further elaborated that “you are sending a message to sign companies and corporate sponsors that for a price, it’s okay to violate City law.”

Sanders, however, refusing to take “illegal” for an answer, asked Brimsey to “advise us how to make it legal.” After counseling Brimsey that her role was not to police the Commission, Sanders led the Commission in the approval of the $57,000 deal. The Commission record reflects that the Los Angeles Parks Foundation would be receiving $57,000 from Warner Brothers and then paying “up to $42,636” to the Department of Recreation and Parks. The Los Angeles Parks Foundation would carve out total administrative fees of 27%.

KCET obtained copies of e-mails to/from the City Attorney’s office and the law office of Latham & Watkins. According to one e-mail correspondence, Latham & Watkins “wants to help” stop efforts to ban commercial signage in City parks. The solution proposed by Latham & Watkins, was to declare the commercial signage to be “Government Speech.”

According to Sanders, the signage in question is “just artwork.” He said that “parks are exempt from the sign ordinance” because such signs “are protected government speech.” Furthermore, according to Sanders, there are “no constraints on what the government can say.”

The beneficiaries of these behind-the-scenes efforts to carve out an exception to City policy happen to be commercial interests who enter into partnerships, also called “alliances” with the Los Angeles Parks Foundation. According to the Foundation’s literature, for established rates, an “alliance” (further explained as a “sponsorship only and tax-deductible”) with the Foundation includes the following benefits:

  • Maximum exposure and name recognition at some of the busiest and most recognizable parks in the Los Angeles area;
  • A unique way to educate your audience about merchandise and technology;
  • Direct access to an influential and enthusiastic audience targeting broad demographics;
  • Opportunities to display, distribute and introduce your products and services (to be determined);
  • Alliance with the non-profit Los Angeles Parks Foundation and its beneficiaries;
  • Inclusion in special events, extensive marketing materials, website and social marketing.

The Los Angeles Parks Foundation openly markets to corporations with the use of their website, which graphically shows where various signage opportunities are available at numerous City parks. Even a rate sheet is available online.

The Warner Brothers Yogi Bear deal has been dropped, as it did not receive approval by the City Council, due to Councilmember Paul Koretz’s questioning how it had quietly been carried forward by the Commission, despite the City Attorney’s objection. Time ran out since the Warner Brothers project was time sensitive; they needed the signs in place BEFORE the release of their Yogi Bear movie, not after!

If you have a child, you are already aware of the importance of engaging your child in commercial-free creative play. In the formative stages of children’s lives, values are being shaped that will last a lifetime. Research tells us that creative play is the basis for learning, critical thinking, self-regulation, problem solving, and creativity.

With television and computers more than ever present in a child’s life, experts have declared there is systemic crisis for normal child development. The American Academy of Pediatrics, for example, recommends no “screen time” for children under age 2 and no more than 2 hours a day of screen time for older children, to reduce the influence of commercials.

The influence of commercial marketing on our country’s children is profound. One of the best ways to encourage creative play is in a nearby park, in open space, with nature. However, if the play-space is plastered with commercials, the whole point of going to the park is lost.

KCET, having a rich history of meeting the educational needs of children, deserves much credit for bringing the urge to “sell our parks” to light.

View the entire 13 minute KCET video, “Show Me the Money”


1 Comment

  1. Diana

    We purchased our home over 40 years ago on Hollyridge Drive because of the access to Griffith Park. It is a treasure and according to the gift to LA is was meant to be open to all. Closing an access means another access must e opened. There are a very few selfish people who do not want public access. I love 1/4 of a mile from the Beachwood trail head. But I have to drive to Bronson Canyon to access the park.


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