Over Exposed in the West SFV

How exposed are you and your family to the Billboard blight in the San Fernando Valley?  Are you offended by the proliferation of signage with the express purpose of drawing customers into an establishment that makes its money in the adult entertainment industry?

The Daily News ran a story today (Do San Fernando Valley billboards Xpose too much?) on the overexposure of the Gentleman Club billboards in the San Fernando Valley.

You know the ones, the ubiquitous signs with the head and shoulders model trying to entice the desperate and lonely denizens of the Valley to come to the “busiest bar in the valley.”

In the story, the Daily News reports that 50 such billboards arrayed across the valley, with many at some of the more heavily trafficked intersections.  I’ve had many an opportunity to see the signs on more than a few jaunts around the valley and, interestingly, found some optimally positioned at busy intersections where my time behind the light was more than a couple of seconds, prolonging my viewing time.

So, are the signs an eyesore?

It is, some could argue, their First Amendment right to have the boards to get their unique message out there.  Yet, under that same idea, billboards promoting safe sex were pressured to move from their optimal viewing sites on the basis that they were spurring questions from children.  According to the Daily News report, the Xposed billboards are driving kids to tears.

Is the power in the people to control what we have to look at on the streets?

Capitalism would argue that the market will support those things that support the market.  In other words, the Xposed ads must be working; otherwise the advertiser wouldn’t be spending so much of their money on marketing the business that way.  Where is the intersection of acceptable and unacceptable marketing practices and can you legislate to that constantly shifting target?

Apparently you can, at least when it involves parking and traffic.  How quickly we forget that it was just a few short years ago (2010) when state Assemblymen Bob Blumenfield (D, San Fernando Valley) and Mike Feuer (D, Los Angeles) sponsored a bill to ban trailer ads calling them ” road spam”.  But, the trailer ads posed a different type of blight in that they took up valuable parking and posed a hazard to drivers with their distracting messages.  Ultimately AB 2756 was signed by governor Schwarzenegger creating the trailer sign free environs we see today.

At the time of bills proposal, Mike Feuer was quoted about the signs saying,

“These signs are a distracting safety hazard for drivers, a source of blight in neighborhoods, and a drain on scarce parking spaces intended for business patrons. They should be outlawed, and this legislation will help communities take action against them.”

Are the Xposed signs the same kind of blight?

Perhaps the broader story here as illustrated by the Daily News article is the effects that this kind of advertising has on society in general.  Why do we find these kinds of billboards offensive?  The answer may be in the underlying subtext of what they are selling.

In May, the Ventura County Star reported on Assembly Bill 2441, Proposed tax on strip clubs would fund sexual assault centers,  which proposes a “pole tax” of “$10 per-patron fee on entertainment establishments that feature live nude performers and also serve alcohol.”

The reason for this tax, the bill suggests, is to combat the negative secondary effects on society including the “objectification of women that helps foster such crimes as sexual assault and sex trafficking.”  If passed, the tax would go to funding counseling and support services to victims of sexual assault and help law enforcement to process evidence from rape victims.  So at some level, some politicians are in favor of legislation to combat what they see as the negative side effects of the industry.

While most of us are not fans of a new tax, adding this fee might mitigate the extra money in hand to buy these kinds of billboards and influence the level of patronage by making it a pay-to-play establishment.  AB 2441 is now in Committee hearings to evaluate its need and effects on the industry.

In the meantime, if the dearth of commercial signage is getting you down, why not check out Ban Billboard Blight to find out what you can do to make the visual landscape a less commercial space.  Or, sign the petition, Billboard Companies: Remove billboards that solicit the sex industry, mentioned in the Daily News article.

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