San Francisco's off-the-wall efforts help tumble illicit billboards 

San Francisco officials have removed 145 illegal billboards in the 14 months following completion of a 2010 citywide inventory of the signs.

Since launching its General Advertising Sign Program in 2006, The City has removed a total of 733 illegal billboards. The enforcement effort followed voters’ 2002 approval of Proposition G, which capped the number of advertising signs in San Francisco.

As of March, The City is now home to 860 legal billboards, according to an annual report released last week. Another 109 signs are considered illegal and are set to be removed. And 26 more are considered afoul of the law for reasons such as expansion, added lights or missing identification numbers.

“After the final sweep, what we’re doing right now is monitoring,” said Planning Department spokeswoman Joanna Linsangan. She said city workers drive around identifying illegal billboards, and companies that operate legal signs will turn in offenders.

Yet given the pretty penny that people can make off of them, illegal signs keep popping up. Between February 2011 and March 2012, 40 new illegal signs were installed at 23 different locations.

Billboards can become the subject of heated debates in San Francisco. Last year, a spirited fight erupted when an anonymous complaint was filed about a 15-by-7-foot Coca-Cola advertising sign in Bernal Heights. It was initially deemed illegal, but supporters of the sign, which had been hidden under siding for decades, said it had artistic value. The Planning Commission decided in February to make a legal exception for such signs, creating a new “vintage” category.

When The City itself attempted to renew a contract for a billboard it inherited by purchasing the building at 1650 Mission St., there was enough opposition to persuade the Board of Supervisors not to proceed.

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