By MICHAEL KATZ

In 1921, after emigrating from Europe and fighting for the United States in World War I, Carl Strom started Western Exterminator Co. in downtown Los Angeles based on the principals of quality work at a fair price and exceeding customer expectations. In 1952, Strom moved Western's offices to our current landmark location overlooking the Hollywood (101) Freeway. Today, the second, third, and fourth generations of his family continue the Western tradition.

As Los Angeles grew and became more auto-oriented, it became imperative for businesses to advertise their locations with signs visible from large streets and fast-moving highways. Our "Little Man," with his mallet behind his back and raising a warning finger at a pesky rodent with accompanying neon letters, has stood above the 101, advertising our services to passers-by. Today, the west elevation of the building and the sign are just as they were in 1952. For nearly 60 years, our landmark sign has been part of the L.A. fabric, honored by the Los Angeles Historical Society and featured in numerous motion pictures. Daily, we receive comments from customers who fondly refer to seeing our Little Man along the highway as children, and they specifically reference their love of our sign because they consider it to be an integral and appreciated part of the L.A. landscape. As adults, they have confidence in our Little Man, who stands as a sentinel upon the hill, to rid their homes of unwanted pests.

Although it is good service that keeps customers, a good sign drives customers in, and our use of creative signage has allowed Western to remain a strong and viable firm for nearly 90 years. Our sign is literally priceless to our business, generating millions of dollars every year in revenues, which is why we take issue with the city of Los Angeles' attempt to impose undue hardships by adding new limits to on-site business signage: the very livelihood of any business.

Stop sign

Our sign was installed and has been maintained following regulations set forth by the city of Los Angeles. We know that if Carl Strom had tried starting Western Exterminator under the city's new proposed sign code revisions, our company would not have grown as large, jeopardizing the jobs of our nearly 1,000 employees.

We agree that good sign restrictions should be in place, and have always followed them. However, the current knee-jerk reaction to all signs, and the pending passage of sign code revisions that would penalize currently legal signage, is by no means fair or right.

We urge the City Council to address off-site signage, which frustrates so many, separately from the on-site signage that promotes city businesses. The most cost-effective advertising in Los Angeles is on-site signage. We are in a very expensive media market: Television costs $13.20 and radio $6.47 per 1,000 exposures compared with on-site signage at 40 cents.

As the City Council begins evaluating a business's right to signage, we urge them to not give a vocal minority carte blanche. The present concerns about excessive signage are not directed at current legal signage, but new signage that does not yet fit into city regulations.

Western respectfully urges the City Council and mayor not to allow the controversy over digital billboards and supergraphics to sweep away like a tsunami the existing, rational regulation of all other signage. Deal with off-site signage as an issue, but don't in the process penalize businesses that are following current on-site law.

Michael Katz is president of the Western Exterminator Co.

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