By Juliet Bennett Rylah
WEST HOLLYWOOD — The Sunset Strip is known for bright lights and flashy billboards, but West Hollywood residents say one new billboard is simply too bright. The digital sign is the first of 20 similar billboards scheduled to pop up over the next seven years.
The Sunset Strip Spectacular is a 67-foot-tall, three-sided digital billboard at 8775 Sunset Blvd. The city of West Hollywood put out an request for proposal for a pilot billboard project in 2015 and ultimately selected Orange Barrel Media, an Ohio-based media company with several advertising properties in Los Angeles, to construct and operate it.
According to Thomas Wiscombe Architecture, the firm that designed the billboard, it consists of three outer planes with a tilted tesseract nestled inside. It can serve as a backdrop for live events, and as a platform for ads, contemporary art curated by the Museum of Contemporary Art, and messages from area nonprofits.
For West Hollywood, digital advertising can be lucrative. The Sunset Strip has long been famous for its rock ’n roll billboards and, according to a 2018 NRP report, is the most expensive place to advertise outside of New York’s Time Square.
City Councilman John D’Amico told CBS Los Angeles that the billboard is part of a larger seven-year initiative to add 20 more, each of which can earn the city up to $500,000 per year. Orange Barrel initially agreed to pay the city $1 million per year for the next two years, but the City Council approved a fee of $480,000 annually for the next two years due to decreased advertising revenues amid the pandemic. It also extended Orange Barrel’s contract from 10 years to 12 years to make up for the lost fees.
Not everyone is pleased with the project, however. Some West Hollywood residents say the billboard has been a blinding eyesore since it was switched on earlier this year.
Jerome Cleary, who lives about a block and a half from the billboard, wrote an op-ed for WEHOville, a local news website, about the sign, saying, “Bright yellows, blues, oranges and red now roost on my living room and dining room walls as the light pollution displays an endless colored slide show.”
Light pollution is defined as the inappropriate or excessive use of artificial light. According to the International Dark-Sky Association, it can consist of glare (brightness that causes discomfort), skyglow (brightening of the night sky over inhabited areas), light trespass (light falling where it isn’t needed), and clutter (confusing groupings of light).
Light pollution can disrupt natural circadian rhythms and the way people produce melatonin. It can also impact wildlife by disturbing nocturnal animals and their reproductive cycles, or by confusing certain species.
For example, baby sea turtles that hatch at night would ordinarily use the moonlit horizon to find the sea, but millions die in Florida every year as they’re lured towards artificial lights instead.
Clay Collett, development director with Orange Barrel Media, also lives in West Hollywood, and told The Independent that the company is “committed to being a good neighbor.” The company previously worked with community members to develop standards for operations and brightness and at night, the screens do automatically dim.
“We understand that residents may continue to have concerns with respect to the brightness of the screens, and we are committed to working with the community to get it right,” Collett said. “We are actively reaching out to West Hollywood residents in the area, and we encourage residents to contact us directly so that we may engage with them to work to mitigate their concerns.
Residents may email their concerns to Collett at email@example.com.
As the region continues to explore digital alternatives to traditional billboards, a similar struggle is playing out just south of downtown Los Angeles, where a massive billboard installed on three sides of The Reef can be seen from the Santa Monica (10) Freeway.
Juliet Bennett Rylah is a freelance reporter who covers Hollywood and West Hollywood. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.