City Council Approves Expanding Billboard Usage, Considering Kiosks

The Culver City Council meeting of Oct. 23, 2023 took up a controversial position on advertising that has lain dormant since the last expansion in 2015. A request from the Westfield Mall, under the corporate banner of Unibail-Romanco-Westfield, to “amend the design for development to broaden the definition of allowable signage to include off-premises advertising.”

The allowance of advertising and billboards has long been against city policy; if you are driving down a road in Culver City and see a billboard, what you are looking at is the city of Los Angeles. 

The bizarre compromise that was created by the City Council in 2015 allowed that the mall could advertise, but they could only advertise things that were actually for sale in the mall. But the desire was to use billboards to promote movies – and there are no movie theaters in the Fox Hill Westfield Mall. That led to the creation of a strange hybrid ‘ticket sale’ station that was routinely dysfunctional, and why anyone would go somewhere to buy a ticket that you then had to go to another location to watch the movie was an example of what a stretch this was. But the mall has used the billboards to shout at the passing traffic on the 405; a slice of virtual real estate that was deemed to be too valuable to leave undeveloped. 

The council voted to approve “off site advertising” on the existing signs at Fox Hills/Westfield Mall, meaning that they no longer have to pretend that it has anything to do with what is actually on sale there.  According to the city’s official press release, “This broadens the allowable content for the mall’s signage, but does not digitize or add to the number of current advertising signs.”

Even more advertising was approved with the council requesting staff to”pursue changes to the sign ordinance that would allow a digital kiosk program throughout Culver City. Currently, free-standing digital kiosks are prohibited within city limits due to the existing sign code.”

The idea of kiosks has come back into the community multiple times, with requests from two companies – Ike Smart City and Soofa – looking to install digital advertising on downtown sidewalks. While there have been several community meetings, they have been at odd times and locations other than City Hall; public awareness has been minimal. 

Karim Sahli spoke to the meeting from the floor (virtually) to warn that the technology was likely to be outdated quickly; “The city should include a measure that they can remove [them] if this turns out to be a complete failure.” 

Michelle Weiner noted that kiosks already placed in Playa Vista were defunct. “It was a pretty big [kiosk screen] and it was just blank. It wasn’t working, and it was just taking up sidewalk space.” 

 The City Council created an ad-hoc subcommittee to study the sign code amendments, both for kiosks and Westfield signage, assigning duties to Mayor Albert Vera and Council member Dan O’Brien.

There will be more advertising from Westfield; kiosks will be considered. 

Judith Martin-Straw 

The Actors' Gang