Sunday, March 7, 2010

Now You See Them, Now You Don’t: Fuel Outdoor Signs in L.A. Coming Down

In an unusually progressive move by an outdoor advertising company, Fuel Outdoor has begun removing signs in New York, and now LA, reports BBB. Of course this isn't some magnificent act of altruism but the result of a lengthy legal battle which finally ended in a decision against the offending company. We thought the signs might stay up despite the supreme court decision but the Fuel obviously knows better. Now what to do with all the empty frames they will leave behind on structures where removal might take some real elbow grease?

VIA Ban Billboard Blight

Fuel Outdoor, the rogue sign company that failed to win a lawsuit challenging the city’s right to ban new off-site advertising signs, has begun taking down the movie-poster style signs installed without permits in a number of locations. Whether the New York-based company intends to remove all its estimated 200-plus signs is not known. [More Here]

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

“Renegade Sign Bandits” Call Attention to Fuel Outdoor’s Illegal Billboards

Ban Billboard Blight reports that "renegade sign bandits" have hit the streets of LA plastering Fuel Outdoors' illegal signage with violation notices from the city of LA. It should be noted that New York is also a victim of Fuel Outdoor and it's illegal advertising signage. According to BBB, "A spokesperson for the L.A. Department of Building and Safety confirmed that the city had nothing to do the notices." Clearly this is a public reaction to LA's unwillingness to follow through with sign removal after a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision not to hear Metrolights' appeal put the final nail in the coffin that is their legal battle to legitimize their illegal signage business. More [HERE]

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Supreme Court Won’t Hear Metrolights Appeal: Will Those Illegal Billboards Now Come Down?

Now that Metro Fuel has exhausted its options trying to legalize the non-permitted city signs they installed years ago without any discussion with the city of New York, we should see them come down. How fast this will happen is a matter of debate.

VIA Ban Billboard Blight

The legal battle over the hundreds of movie poster-style billboards put up in L.A. without permits the past five years apparently reached an end today, when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review an appellate court decision that the city’s off-site sign ban can be used to prohibit the company’s signs. [More Here]

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Monday, June 8, 2009

Two NPA Outdoor Signs Removed

I Just walked by these two NPA street level billboards and they were gone. There are a few reasons this could have happened including, the lease ran out and they didn't want to renew. My personal favorite would be that the recent actions of some concerned citizens caused the DOB to look into NPA outdoor and serve a violation. Either way, if we could remove the illegal Fuel Outdoor ad display that's still there, that wall might have some potential.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dangerous Illegal Art? How About Some Dangerous Illegal Billboards

So with all this talk about illegal art I thought we should all be reminded of the other illegal image making that goes on around the city, outdoor advertising. There is a stark contrast between the two processes which needs to be noted, and one which has not been acknowledged by those commenting on this blog in regards to PosterBoy's illegal and destructive billboard takedown.

Above is an illegal billboard I found recently that I called in to the Department of Buildings (complaint #1247134). I am one of a group of diligent citizens that runs a site called illegal billboards that keeps track of illegal signage in the city, and is a forum for the discussion of billboard rules and regulations. We also keep track of the billboards we are responsible for getting removed, like this illegal sign at the corner of 34th street and 9th avenue. Illegal signage is nearly as prevalent if not more prevalent than legal signage in our public environment. Companies like Fuel Outdoor, (illegal signs' dirtiest billboard company) and NPA Outdoor, remain in operation despite conducting almost no legal business whatsoever. The fact of the matter is that both illegal artists and advertisers are operating vigilante style in a battle to gain the public's attention for their own cause.

With that said, the social deviance and danger associated with our illegal public projects pales in comparison to equivalent outdoor advertising activities. The most obvious difference being that their deviance creates an environment rife with illegal activity for profit, and ours creates an environment which promotes deviant activities in pursuit of social justice. The former is an environment where profit is paramount, and the public is silenced in order to keep quiet the illegal activities being perpetrated by private forces. The later is an environment where the public is rewarded for outing illegal activity in the public at the cost of our very own safety and well being.

Another difference between the two types of illegal image making taking place in our public environment has to do with the dangers associated with each. Recent PosterBoy activities were looked at as being especially dangerous to the public's safety by recent commentors. Yet the danger caused by PosterBoy is dwarfed by the incomparable danger that outdoor advertising poses to our public safety, both mentally and physically. This article details the safety concerns posed by outdoor advertising's illegal use of scaffolding around the city a few years back.

The above images are from a sidewalk shed which collapsed after strong winds got hold of a giant Helio advertisement wrapped around the shed. This eventually caused the structure to collapse, destroying several cars and potentially risking the lives of the public.

Therefore when we talk about illegal art and public destruction of property let's all remember that our efforts to press our issue by illegal methods do not veer too far from the operations of industries which have strangled a vital lifeline to our city, our ability to protest by any means necessary, while perpetrating the exact same crimes.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Fuel Outdoor Suffers Huge Defeat as US Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down Metro Lights Decision

Rami Tabello is a genius. This post chronicles the ongoing Fuel Outdoor drama which seems to have ended in Fuels defeat. We should see the removal of many Fuel advertising structures in New York and other cities as this decision trickles down. The end note regarding the stock price for the hedge fund that owns Fuel is amazing.

from by

We’ve written about Fuel Outdoor before. This is a company that we have termed the “Dirtiest Billboard Company in America.” We also wrote about Fuel’s legal challenge against New York City in Fuel Outdoor Builds 324 Illegal Signs in New York City Then Sues New York City.

Fuel Outdoor is owned by Och-Ziff Hedge Fund which, after it acquired Fuel from Sergio Fernandez De Cordova and Seth Lippert (see an interview with these two oleagenous twats), financed a multi-million dollar USA-wide spree of illegal billboard construction.

In addition to installing illegal billboards, Fuel Outdoor would oversell their signs. They would sell, say, 2,500 sign faces nationwide to a major media buyer, then actually install less than that. Pattison Outdoor does the same thing in Canada, although Astral and CBS are careful not to. (When CBS Outdoor acquired the TTC advertising contract from Urban Outdoor TransAD, CBS found that Urban was overselling quite a bit and CBS Outdoor officials believe that IMA Outdoor currently oversells signs for its GO Transit franchise).

Fuel’s signature product is their “Metro Lights Panels” which you can see above. They were installed without permits first in Los Angeles, which has a street furniture contract; Fuel Outdoor than challenged the signs by-laws of Los Angeles, under the First Amendment. Fuel was quite successful in the lower courts, which ruled that Los Angeles cannot ban Fuel’s signs because it allows the same type of signs on transit shelters.

Emboldened by the lower court victory in Los Angeles, Fuel Outdoor installed the same signs illegally in other American cities that have Street Furniture contracts including: New York, Boston (in very useless places), Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington DC and San Francisco. There are currently outstanding challenges by Fuel Outdoor to the signs by-laws in San Francisco and New York. Those challenges in San Fran were stayed pending the outcome of an appellate court ruling in the Los Angeles case.

Thankfully, appellate court completely destroyed Fuel Outdoor and said that municipalities can ban billboards even if they allow the exact same signs on transit shelters. This is the ruling [PDF]:

Fuel Outdoor can now be expected to lose the associated court cases in the rest of the country. One blogger, points to a particularly scathing paragraph in the opinion in which the judges slam Fuel Outdoor’s famous attorney Lawrence Tribe:

Not to be deterred, Metro Lights drew our attention to additional precedents at oral argument in support of a further variation on this allegation of unconstitutional favoritism. Upping the rhetorical ante, Metro Lights accused the City of “auctioning off First Amendment rights” to the highest bidder, in this case CBS. This is strong, if rather sloganeering, language, but after reviewing the case law on which Metro Lights relies, we believe it to be little more than a canard.

Och-Ziff Hedge Fund is currently trading at $4.85/share down from its $32/share initial public offering price in late 2007.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

64 3rd Avenue: Fascia Sign on a Mural Permit

I posted about this illegal billboard on a few days ago and Rami Tabello from, being the most versed person I know on Illegal billboards, picked it up and gave it some interesting back story. This sign is not only illegal for not complying with its permit but in fact it was removed by the DOB because of its illegality approximately 3 months ago. The fact that it has been rehung is proof of the blatant disregard outdoor advertising companies have towards the laws of NYC and towards the interests of its citizens.

from by Rami Tabello

We’ve written quite a bit about fascia signs on mural permits. In fact, the City of Toronto is now being sued by Titan Outdoor over the issue. Toronto is not the only city with a vinyl sign on a painted sign problem. There is a lot in common between New York City and Toronto. Billboards for one.

This article from the New York Times from is from 1998:

The article illustrates that, just like in the City of Toronto, the New York Department of Buildings is issuing illegal permits for billboards:

City Councillor Duane recently wrote to the Commissioner of Buildings, Gaston Silva, saying that he fears the department ”is issuing blanket approvals for these signs without regard to building codes, zoning regulations, or their appropriateness.”

The article then goes on to say:

Billboards are permitted, with restrictions, in the parts of downtown that are zoned for manufacturing. They are banned in historic districts, though painted advertisements are allowed on some buildings. And within 100 feet of a residential zone or park, billboards are allowed only if they face at least 165 degrees away.

So the NYC code has more permissive regulations for painted advertising.

The photograph above, from, is of Fuel Outdoor’s illegal billboards at 64 3rd Avenue. A complaint was filed against the sign on August 14, 2006. Then in December 2007, Fuel Outdoor obtained a permit to paint a sign on this wall.

The permit appears to specify that there was an existing legal non-conforming painted sign on this wall. We would doubt that.

We’ve written about Fuel Outdoor before in Fuel Outdoor - The Dirtiest Billboard Company in America and Fuel Outdoor Builds 324 Illegal Signs in New York City Then Sues New York City.

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Thursday, July 3, 2008

Fuel Outdoor-Illegal Ads

This article appeared on and should be read by all New Yorkers. It not only heightens the deep distrust I have for the public advertising industry but makes real the lack of respect they have for the city, its government and thus its people.

Fuel Outdoor Builds 324 Illegal Signs in New York City Then Sues New York City

by Rami Tabello

We previously took a look at Fuel Outdoor in Fuel Outdoor - The Dirtiest Billboard Company in America. Fuel Outdoor is expanding nationwide with an aggressive legal strategy that sees them build hundreds of illegal billboards in a city, then sue the city on First Amendment grounds.

In New York City, Fuel is rampant. The problem is, they won their case against Los Angeles in Federal Court because of Los Angeles’ street furniture program, and they are attempting to take that precedent nationwide. Here ares some of the 324 illegal Fuel signs that are popping up all over NYC:

According to the lawsuit that Fuel filed :

-Out of the 360 signs Fuel installed in NYC, 324 are illegal under the NYC sign code. Paragraph 4.

-NYC’s sign code is “stark government hypocrisy” because it doesn’t apply to New York’s street furniture program. Paragraph 1.

-The sign code’s justifications are “blatantly pretextual.” “It is axiomatic that the City cannot infringe on core First Amendment rights when its reasons for doing so are blatantly pretextual especially where, as here, the City’s true motivation is to destroy competition and reserve for itself a monopoly in the outdoor advertising business.” Paragraph 11.

-Fuel should be allowed to operate its panels until a comprehensive sign code is implemented that also applies to street furniture. Paragraph 12.

-Fuel installed signs visible from the sidewalk but inside the walls of parking garages, like the ones in the last photo above. Fuel claims that such signs are not subject to the NYC sign code because they can’t be seen when the parking garage door is down. Page 7, footnote.

-Cemusa’s street furniture contract allows up to 200 scrolling ads. Fuel’s ads don’t scroll. “This provides yet another reason why Cemusa’s bus shelter signs are even more dangerous and unattractive than Fuel’s panel signs allegedly are.” Paragraph 58

-Cemusa’s ads are equipped with Bluetooth technology “that actually enables these signs to detect passing cellular telephones and to send advertisements directly to these passing phones…. Needless to say, the fact that unsuspecting motorists may be bombarded with text message advertisements emanating from nearby bus shelters provides yet another reason why -Cemusa’s bus shelter signs are, if anything, significantly more dangerous and unattractive.”

The City’s scheme for regulating outdoor advertising therefore does not directly advance its purported interest in promoting traffic safety and aesthetics and is therefore unconstitutional.

Here is the whole complaint: [PDF]

According to this letter [PDF], New York City entered into an agreement to stay prosecution against Fuel’s signs pending the outcome of this case. Fuel apparently continued to build new signs, and the agreement does not cover all the Fuel signs in NYC:

The Fuel case is scheduled to be heard in tandem with a case against New York by Clear Channel. More on the Clear Channel case soon.

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