Friday, March 11, 2016
C.A. Upholds City of Los Angeles Ban on New Billboards
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Los Angeles city ordinances banning most new billboards in the city do not violate the free speech protections of the California Constitution, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
Div. Eight reversed the ruling of then-Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Luis Lavin, since elevated to the Court of Appeal, that Lamar Central Outdoor, LLC’s rights were violated when the city denied its application to convert 45 existing offsite billboards to digital displays.
In 2002, the city banned most new commercial billboards, with a few exceptions. The ordinance included a ban on conversions of existing signs to digital, and in 2009 the city explicitly banned offsite digital billboards.
Officials said the laws were needed to reduce visual clutter.
First Amendment Loss
Lamar challenged the ban on First Amendment grounds in federal court, but lost. They then sought relief in state court, citing longstanding case law holding that state constitutional speech protections are, in some respects, broader than their federal equivalents.
Lavin agreed with Lamar, holding that the distinctions between onsite and offsite signs, and between commercial and was a content-based restriction under the state Constitution’s Art. I, while recognized that the federal jurisprudence is to the contrary. The ban was therefore subject to strict scrutiny, which it could not survive because the city failed to show how offsite billboards contributed more to visual blight than onsite signs, or how commercial signs were a bigger problem than noncommercial ones.
But Justice Elizabeth Grimes, writing for the Court of Appeal, noted that the California Supreme Court upheld a similar San Diego ordinance decades ago, in a ruling the U.S. Supreme Court overturned solely due to its application to noncommercial speech. She also cited a recent Fourth District Court of Appeal ruling upholding Corona’s ban on all new offsite commercial billboards.
The justice acknowledged that the high court of Oregon, which also has a free-speech clause in its constitution that has also been applied more broadly than the First Amendment, has accepted arguments like Lamar’s. But the ruling is unpersuasive, she said.
“The Oregon court relied solely on its own state court precedents construing the Oregon Constitution, neither citing nor discussing any of the many federal authorities construing the First Amendment and finding the onsite-offsite distinction is not content-based,” Grimes wrote….That is not so in California….
“We note in addition that other states have free speech clauses similar to ours, and courts in those states have upheld ordinances against both state and federal constitutional challenges to an onsite-offsite distinction.”
She went on to say that the sign ban survives intermediate scrutiny, rejecting the argument that it is underinclusive because it allows for some exceptions.
The case is Lamar Central Outdoor, LLC v. City of Los Angeles , 16 S.O.S. 1293.
Copyright 2016, Metropolitan News Company