Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Court of Appeal Orders Revocation of City’s Billboard Exemptions
By JACKIE FUCHS, Staff Writer
Permits exempting two outdoor advertising companies from city ordinances regulating outdoor advertising must be revoked, this district’s Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
Div. Eight unanimously upheld Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Terry Green’s finding that a settlement agreement under which the City of Los Angeles exempted CBS Outdoor and Clear Channel Outdoor from ordinances banning the conversion of billboards to digital displays was invalid.
But Justice Elizabeth Grimes, writing for the panel, said that Green should have ordered revocation of permits issued pursuant to the agreement, which allowed CBS and Clear Channel to modernize up to 840 billboards in contravention of city ordinances.
In 2002 the Los Angeles City Council established a ban on new offsite outdoor advertising signs throughout the city and prohibited alterations or enlargements of legally existing off-site signs. The city also established an inspection program and assessed an annual fee to pay for it.
Shortly thereafter Vista Media Group, a competitor of CBS Outdoor and Clear Channel Outdoor, brought a “reverse validation” action, seeking a judicial declaration that the sign fee ordinance was invalid on constitutional grounds.
Vista Media settled its claims with the city, and after various legal proceedings CBS and Clear Channel also became parties to the settlement agreement, which, among other things, exempted them from the inspection program and numerous zoning and building laws regulating off-site signs in the city.
The settlement agreement also required the city to issue new permits allowing CBS and Clear Channel to modernize up to 840 signs, a full one-quarter of their total inventory, despite the city’s ban on that very type of modification. It also exempted them from the usual procedures for obtaining permits, giving their applications precedence over the requests of other property owners in the city.
In 2008, Summit Media, a competitor of CBS and Clear Channel, filed for a writ of mandate ordering the city to set aside and cease implementing the settlement agreement.
Trial Court ruling
Green agreed with Summit that the settlement agreement was void for all purposes. He rejected Summit‘s contention, however, that all permits that had been issued pursuant to the settlement agreement should be revoked, concluding that the issue of permit revocation was an administrative issue,
In finding that Green properly voided the settlement agreement, Grimes said:
“The 2002 sign ban expressly prohibited off-site signs, and stated: ‘This prohibition shall also apply to alterations or enlargements of legally existing off-site signs.’ We do not see how the language could be plainer, or how the prohibition could conceivably be construed to exclude from its scope an alteration consisting of converting an ordinary billboard to one with a digital display. …
“In sum, the cases are clear that an agreement to circumvent applicable zoning laws is invalid and unenforceable.”
But Grimes rejected CBS and Clear Channel’s contention that a judgment invalidating all digital conversion permits issued pursuant to the settlement agreement would be “grossly excessive in relation to the harm.”
“We see nothing ‘grossly excessive’ in the revocation of illegal permits issued under an illegal settlement agreement that contravenes municipal ordinances.”
Presiding Justice Laurence Rubin and Justice Madeleine Flier concurred in the opinion.
The League of California Cities, the Westwood South of Santa Monica Blvd. Homeowners Association and the Westwood Homeowners Association filed amicus curiae briefs on behalf of Summit Media, which was represented by Timothy L. Alger of Perkins Coie and Scott B. Kidman and Anthony P. Alden of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan.
Margaret M. Grignon and James C. Martin of Reed Smith co-represented Clear Channel Outdoor along with Laura W. Brill, Joshua M. Rodin and Richard M. Simon of Kendall Brill & Klieger, who also represented CBS Outdoor.
The City of Los Angeles was represented by Tayo A. Popoola and Steven N. Blau of the City Attorney’s Office.
The case is Summit Media v. City of Los Angeles; B220198.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company