A high-level Planning Department official said Friday his department cannot comply with a controversial motion to draft a new law regulating digital billboards in the city without more money and more staff.

"For two years, we have asked (the City Council) for a sign unit of at least three people and consulting money worth about $1 million per year," Deputy Planning Director Alan Bell said. "That's never been allotted."

The City Council, at the urging of two large sign companies, moved two weeks ago to accelerate a new agreement and draft regulations on digital signs aimed at resolving an outstanding lawsuit and bringing in revenue for the city from digital signs for the first time.

The motion called for completing the draft regulations within 30 days in order to avoid "legal and financial risks" from a pending court ruling on the city's 2006 settlement agreement with Clear Channel Outdoor and CBS Outdoor over a previous lawsuit.

A lower court struck down the agreement, which opened the door for the companies to put up a total of 840 digital billboards around the city. A member of California's 2nd District Court of Appeal this week signaled the court's support for revoking the settlement agreement and invalidating the 100 or so highly lucrative digital billboards the companies have put up to date.


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Critics decried the council's motion as a way to circumvent the pending appeals court decision, allowing Clear Channel and CBS Outdoor to keep their 100 digital billboards and giving other outdoor advertising firms a pathway to put up digital signs of their own.

Councilman Paul Krekorian, who co-sponsored the motion, said in a letter posted to his Facebook page Thursday that it was his intention to reduce the overall number of billboards and end the cycle of litigation.

"We will come back to the council, and we will address the motion. We are required to address the motion," Bell said. But instead of the law the council requested, the Planning Department will return to the council with a more limited take on digital signs, allowing them in very specific districts, like around L.A. Live and Staples Center, he said.

Bell also recommended a much more deliberative process to draft comprehensive digital signage regulations.

"We recommended (last year) that the council establish a sign advisory committee and include all of the stakeholders, including billboard activists," Bell said. "It really needs to include everybody who has a different perspective on this issue."

Krekorian spokesman Jeremy Oberstein said the councilman was not available to comment.