Fuel Outdoor: In With a Bang, Out With a Whimper…and a $1.8 Million Fine

Array of Fuel Outdoor signs put up without permits (Photo from January, 2009)

New York-based Fuel Outdoor was one of the first rogue companies that rode into L.A. with the following strategy: Put up billboards and supergraphic signs all over the city without regard for ordinances and requirements for permits, then sue the city when the citations start coming and get the courts to declare those ordinances–most importantly, the 2002 ban on new off-site signs–an unconstitutional infringement of free speech.

That strategy crashed and burned at the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court, which two years ago refused to review a federal appeals court decision that rejected the central thesis of Fuel’s claim–that the city forfeited its right to prohibit Fuel’s signs because it allowed the same sort of signs in bus shelters, kiosks, and other forms of “street furniture.”

Several months later, the company started taking down its signs, and earlier this week City Attorney Carmen Trutanich announced that the company had agreed to a legal settlement requiring the payment of $1.8 million in fines.  That brought to $6.3 million the civil penalties Trutanich’s office has collected from companies putting up illegal signs, among them CBS Outdoor, one of the largest owners of billboards and other advertising signs in the city.

According to the City Attorney, Fuel Outdoor had erected 533 illegal wall and pole signs at 202 locations throughout the city. The company had also put up more than a dozen supergraphic signs, which were the subject of a separate lawsuit filed against the city in 2008. That lawsuit was dismissed in the wake of the city’s federal appeals court victory last year in the lawsuit brought by World Wide Rush, a Pennsylvania supergraphic sign company.

The City Attorney’s office is seeking civil penalties from several other companies alleged to have erected illegal signs, among them Van Wagner Communications, Vanguard Outdoor, and the aforementioned World Wide Rush.

Dennis Hathaway

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