Commentary

Not So Fast: Court Upholds L.A. Billboard Ban

Tuesday the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals delivered a setback to out-of-home advertisers in Los Angeles with its decision to uphold the city's 2002 ban on new outdoor advertising. Specifically, the court found that the ban did not violate the First Amendment right to free speech, reversing the decision of lower courts. The plaintiff, MetroLights, had challenged the provision against off-site advertising, in which a building surface is used to advertise a product not sold there. But the rebuff has implications for digital out-of-home advertising, a main target of the city's ban.

The legal case -- which is sure to continue as advertisers appeal the ruling -- has attracted the attention of out-of-home advertisers across the country, as L.A. is something of a proving ground for new out-of-home tactics. An automobile Mecca with heavy commuter traffic, its freeways and streets are lined with billboards, including a growing proportion of digital displays, some showing full-motion video. In recent years these have triggered a backlash, leading to a number of legal battles.

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The most recent round began with the apparent unraveling of a legal settlement agreed to by the city government with Clear Channel and CBS Outdoor in 2006. Per the settlement, the outdoor advertisers agreed not to challenge the city's 2002 ban on new billboards, in return for being allowed to upgrade over 800 existing static displays to digital. This agreement seemed to be holding together until last fall, when Clear Channel Outdoor converted a static sign to digital in the well-heeled bohemian neighborhood of Silver Lake.

The well-connected residents of Silver Lake complained that the city's regulation of outdoor advertising was toothless and ineffective, demanding action. In November, Los Angeles city officials recommended that no new billboards be permitted for six months to allow the city to reformulate the 2002 law regulating out-of-home advertising in a way that would withstand challenges on First Amendment grounds. The moratorium could be extended at three-month intervals, if the Los Angeles City Council needed more time to finish revising the rules. The most recent legal victory may prompt the Council to take a more aggressive stance as its members revise the law.

L.A. faces a rising tide of digital outdoor advertising. In September, the lead developer of the $2.5 billion Live LA downtown revitalization project proposed a giant complex of digital signs mounted on the LA Convention Center. Local residents have already registered their opposition to the sign complex, which would have a surface area larger than a football field.

1 comment about "Not So Fast: Court Upholds L.A. Billboard Ban ".
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  1. Scott Ellison from PARTNERSHIP MARKETING, January 21, 2009 at 8:13 p.m.

    Hello:
    I am a midwestern born and raised in Rapid City, SD.
    You know Mt. Rushmore; Crazy Horse; Custer; Bury my Heart @ Wounded Knee...OK. I opened my own OOH company in Sioux City, Iowa which then progressed into 3 states. I love the medium. The problem is this; The outdoor companies have a history of taking liberties with laws and regulations. Even though they had legal rights to build and expand, they did so until "ALL" of them over built and it got the attention of law makers who then decided that it was time to slap a "MORATORIUM" on all builds until a study could be done to find out how it would impact the area. Once that happens it's over. What ever happened to policing the industry by the people who are making a living off it? I go to the top 25 markets in the US. It's in every major market. The big 3 and some independents have over built! Just because you can doesn't mean it's ok. Truth be it told...in heavy areas of traffic people are not concerned about the $7.99 Big Mac Meal being advertised and I highly doubt they are thinking about super sizing it. Like I said...I love the medium and it's getting attention. Unfortunately, it's the wrong kind. Oh one more thing...this is for the lawmakers city and state...You have way more important things to worry about than a a Billboard that's digital in LA....I got it...I will give you and IOU with 5% interest that says I won't do this anymore....In South Dakota there is a saying.."DON'T P*SS ON MY BACK AND TELL ME IT'S RAINING

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