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HMG-CN Exclusive: Citadel Outlet Mall Billboards Violate City And State Laws


One of the five billboards at the Citadel Outlet Mall in Commerce. The signs could be in violation of City, State and Federal outdoor advertising laws



Current Commerce Mayor Tina Baca Del Rio, Mayor pro tem Lilia Leon, Councilmember Ivan Altamirano and City Attorney Eddie Olivo were aware of the violations for years.

By Brian Hews

Hews Media Group-Community News has learned that the Citadel Outlet Mall’s large double-faced digital signs located off the 5 freeway in Commerce could be in violation of City, State and Federal outdoor advertising laws and that Mayor Tina Baca Del Rio, Mayor pro tem Lilia Leon, Councilmember Ivan Altamirano, and City Attorney Eddie Olivo have been aware of the violations yet have failed to take action.

Sources tell HMG-CN that they will not take action because the officials are beholden to the Citadel owner Steve Craig.

The violations stem from whether the Citadel signs are “on-premise” or “off premise,” and whether the California state issued permits for the Citadel’s signs adhere to the City of Commerce Sign Code.

The City of Commerce has a code that does not permit signs within 720 feet of the Citadel. The code mandates that any sign within 720 feet of the Citadel must be what is defined as on-premise.

On-premise signs advertise products located on the premise where the sign is located. An example would be a sign located in front of a McDonalds advertising their Big Mac or One-Dollar drinks.

Off-premise signs advertise products located off the premise where the sign is located. The many signs seen on any freeway advertising a movie is a good example.

There are five large double-faced signs currently in front of the Citadel, four are digital and one is static.

Surprisingly, three of the Citadel signs, six in all since they are double-faced, have been issued Off Premise State Permits.

These permits are in direct violation of that portion of the Commerce Sign Code that dictates no signs within 720 feet of the Citadel. The City of Commerce’ approval in for Citadel signs in 2006 was for on-premise signs.

Below are the permits listed on the DOT website, click on image to see larger version.

Screenshot 2015-02-28 14.12.03

Citadel Off-Premise Permits from the Department of Transportation website, http://www.dot.ca.gov/oda/ searching under ODA Inventory as of January 1, 2015. The off-premise permits are in violation Commerce’ City Sign Ordinance.


HMG-CN has a public records request pending with the State to investigate how Craig Realty Group Citadel, LLC obtained the State Off Premise Permits.

The fact remains that the Off Premise Permits could not been obtained without a valid permit from the City of Commerce, which the city, under its own code, cannot issue.

The permits are a clear violation of the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Outdoor Advertising Act under the Business and Professions Code, Section 5453(a). The code states, “ the applicant for any [outdoor advertising] permit shall offer written evidence that both the owner …of the property upon which the location [sign] is situated and the city with land use jurisdiction over the property upon which the location [sign] is situated have consented to the placing of the advertising display.”

The City of Commerce cannot consent to the permit because of the 720-foot rule in the city’s code.

Further, the California State Application and Administrative Code Section 2422(a)(4) require that the applicant, who is Craig Realty Group Citadel, LLC in this case, include within their State application a copy of their City of Commerce sign construction permit as proof that they are in compliance with Section 5453(a).

Section 2422(a)(4) states…”the consent of the city…shall be demonstrated by producing a copy of the applicable building or sign permit, or other official act of the city…used in that jurisdiction to authorize construction of an advertising display.”

It is unknown at this point how the Citadel and Craig produced a copy of a building permit to the State given it could not be issued by the city under the city’s own code.

Officials at the DOT told HMG-CN there is no exception to the rule and that it would be violation of the code to submit a fake building permit or an on-premise city permit that misled the State.

The officials also confirmed that it is a misdemeanor to violate the code.  The code states, “every person as principal, agent or employee, violating any of the provisions of this chapter is guilty of a misdemeanor.

But the monetary penalties for violating the code could be huge, notwithstanding the fact that the signs must be removed.

The penalty for violating the code is $10,000 for each sign plus $100 per day for each sign not taken down within thirty days of notice from the State. The code also calls for “full disgorgement” of all gross revenues of the signs.

Based on previous Commerce staff reports, the revenues from the sign violations could total in the millions of dollars, and the City would be the recipient.

And sources have told HMG-CN that Mayor Baca Del Rio, Mayor pro tem Lilia Leon, Councilmember Ivan Altamirano, and City Attorney Eddie Olivo have known for years about these violations.

HMG-CN has attempted to contact City Planning Director Matt Marquez and City Attorney Eddie Olivo for clarification, but both have not returned telephone calls.

The other issue with the Citadel signs pertain to on-premise versus off-premise advertising.

In a 2012, a Department of Transportation (DOT) report reviewed whether California was abiding by Federal/State sign agreements. With thousands of signs in the state, the Citadel was singled out in the Federal report four times, with the DOT criticizing California for allowing the Citadel to use off-premise advertising on their two on-premise signs.

The report stated, “the Citadel is the name of a property developed with a large outdoor mall… In order to maintain the status of the permitted signs, the two on-premise signs must be kept free of off-premise advertising. The review team noted at least one instance of a product advertised that did not appear to be an on-premise product. Therefore, Caltrans should ensure their inventory is current and issue any citations or permits as needed.”

The DOT report citing the Citadel's violations.

The DOT report citing the Citadel’s violations.


This DOT report was on the agenda during a 2013 Commerce City Council meeting, but was once again ignored by City Council and City Attorney Eddie Olivo. Counclwoman Denise Robles had to recuse herself because she received a donation from another sign company.

Now it is evident the team of Mayor Baca Del Rio, Mayor pro tem Leon, and Councilmembers Ivan Altamirano and Joe Aguilar are trying to cover their tracks and at the same time provide a huge benefit to the Citadel and Craig by amending the current City Sign Ordinance.

At last week’s City Council meeting, council reviewed the sign ordinance amendment which reads,  “19.25.180 Conversion Of Citadel Digital Display Sign(S) To Off-Site Digital Sign(S).”

In reviewing the new section, HMG-CN confirmed that the current City Council, with Robles recusing herself because of the aforementioned donation, approved the amendment to the exclusive benefit of the Citadel and Steve Craig.

The code actually states that the Citadel is the only business in the City to be exempt from most sign requirements. The proposed code will give digital billboard permits to the Citadel despite the 720-foot rule, which has been the law in Commerce for over 30 years.


Resident Mike Alvarado believes he knows why the Citadel may have been singled out as the only company in the entire city to be exempt from having to comply with billboard, “it is not just one reason, but probably 40,000 reasons,” alluding to the fact that Steve Craig donated $40,000 to oppose Hugo Argumedo and Denise Robles in next Tuesday’s city council election.

This paper was first to report that Craig donated $40,000 to an Independent Expenditure Committee called the California League of Voters, reportedly run by convicted felon Angel Gonzales, to oppose Commerce City Council Candidates Hugo Argumedo and Denise Robles.

Source tell HMG-CN that the goal is to elect two of the other four candidates running, all endorsed by Baca Del Rio, Leon, Altamirano and Aguilar.

Alvarado told HMG-CN, “it has to do with the fact that the City Council regulates the Citadel and thus they have to get elected Councilmembers who have no jobs and have weak ethics and will do what the Citadel wants.” Alvarado continued, “if we don’t get involved and vote for candidates that work for the residents, like Hugo Argumedo and Denise Robles, then we deserve the abuses of the current council.”

  • Ron says:

    Ron Paul recently said states would stop listening to federal laws. For too long we have allowed local governments and politicians to stop listening to all laws.

    As a collective group of law abiding citizens we have allowed our governments and politicians to place themselves above the law.

    We have traded the promises in the philosophy of John Locke for the latest trends in social media.

    We have forgotten the sacrifices of those before us. Those who are buried in foreign Those who gave all for the cause of democracy.

    We have forgotten what it is to live as a free people. A people who are not governed by dictators and oligarchies, but a People who are governed by the People and for the People.

  • Frank Leroy says:

    All billboards should be banned from freeways including these latest versions of electronic art. Nothing but a nuisance, distraction for the traffic, and one of these days, there it will be some fatalities from motor vehicle accidents.

    Amber alerts, another nuisance, too many people stop on the freeway lanes or shoulders in order to copy down license plates numbers being broadcasted on the overpasses from these alarm signals.

    Now politicians are trying to become overnight celebrities. Freeway signs are annoying and blite to the urban environmental landscape.

    Worst blite, Del Amo Bridge billboard, sitting on Lakewood-Cerritos Properties, rite in the middle of residential tract of homes.

  • TomG says:

    If the permit was issued by the state for off-premise signs, wouldn’t the state instead of the city council fix the problem? The state would revoke the permit and fine the company.

    Also, if the city council is ignoring it, did it already issue on-premise sign permits as you alluded but did not elaborate further (“The City of Commerce’ approval in for Citadel signs in 2006 was for on-premise signs.”)

    The action to “19.25.180 Conversion Of Citadel Digital Display Sign(S) To Off-Site Digital Sign(S).” just doesn’t make sense. That’s why they tabled it. This doesn’t solve the problem of having mismatched on-premise and off-premise permits and the design of the signs, which I presume will remain in place and not altered.