Legal Wars: Sign Company Attorneys Plot New Attacks On L.A. Regulations

World Wide Rush supergraphic on Wilshire Blvd. ( Photo from June 23, 2010)

Apparently undaunted by a federal appellate court decision upholding the city’s right to ban new off-site and supergraphic signs, attorneys for sign companies have signaled their intention to mount fresh challenges to the ban that has been the subject of almost constant litigation since its original passage eight years ago.

In filings in U.S. District Court, attorneys for such sign companies as World Wide Rush and Skytag, Inc. say they intend to fight the ban on the grounds that it unconstitutionally restricts commercial speech, an issue they claim wasn’t addressed by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in its recent decision in favor of the city.  The plaintiff in that case, World Wide Rush, had argued that the sign ban violated the constitution because it allowed exceptions for sign districts, specific plans, and development agreements.

The filings came in response to a motion by the City Attorney’s office seeking an order requiring nearly a dozen companies that sued the city on the same grounds as World Wide Rush to show cause why those lawsuits shouldn’t be dismissed.  U.S. District Court judge Audrey Collins had issued stays last year on those lawsuits pending the outcome of the 9th Circuit appeal.

In filings opposing the orders to show cause, attorneys representing World Wide Rush and Skytag also said they are in the process of deciding whether or not to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the appellate court ruling, and seek to stay the enforcement of the ruling pending the outcome of such a review.  They argued that the sign ordinance is unconstitutional because it doesn’t meet the legal test for regulations on commercial speech, which in essence requires that such regulation must be designed for specific purposes and cannot be any broader than is needed to achieve those purposes.  In the case of L.A.’s sign ordinance, two of the stated purposes are protecting the visual environment and ensuring traffic safety.

Also making similar arguments were attorneys for Vanguard Outdoor, Community Redevelopment Association, and J. Keith Stephens, purported owner of L.A. Outdoor Advertising, Valley Outdoor Advertising, and Virtual Media Group.  Most of the companies were beneficiaries of some 50 injunctions Judge Collins handed down two years ago barring the city from enforcement against the companies’ signs.  Attorneys for Vanguard Outdoor, which has injunctions at three different sites, argued that lifting the injunctions would put the company out of business.

Documents in other court cases have revealed that advertisers pay as much as $80,000 a month for a single supergraphic sign in a high-visibility location.  Vanguard Outdoor has been cited for illegal supergraphics at sites not under court injunction.

Dennis Hathaway

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