Perpetual Litigation: Another Company Carries Attack on L.A. Sign Ban To 9th Circuit

Vanguard Outdoor Sign Across Street From UCLA Campus (verbal irony courtesy of Corona)

An obscure Hollywood company with supergraphic signs at a total of three sites is taking its fight against the city’s ban on off-site and supergraphic signs to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, despite the fact that in the past two years that panel has twice upheld the city’s right to prohibit those kinds of signs.

The company, Vanguard Outdoor, sued the city in 2008, shortly after a district court judge ruled in the widely-publicized World Wide Rush v. City of Los Angeles case that the city’s sign ban was unconstitutional.  Vanguard’s lawsuit was one of more than a dozen “copycat” suits filed by sign companies in the wake of that ruling.

The city appealed the ruling, and earlier this year a 9th Circuit panel of judges overturned the lower court decision, saying that the city was within its constitutional rights to ban off-site and supergraphic signs even though it allowed certain exceptions to that ban.  A year earlier, the court made the same general ruling in a similar lawsuit brought in 2004 by a New York company called Metrolights.

Since the World Wide Rush ruling this year, several of the “copycat” lawsuits have been dropped, and a large number of unpermitted supergraphic signs draped over the walls of buildings have been removed.  However, Vanguard Outdoor has not only kept its signs up at the three sites, but has pursued further legal challenges to the sign ban.

Late last month, the same district court judge who ruled in favor of World Wide Rush in 2008 rejected those challenges, saying that Vanguard’s attorneys had failed to raise any serious new issues that weren’t already covered by the 9th Circuit decision officially filed in favor of the city on July 15.  For more, click here.

The company is also seeking a stay of enforcement by the city while the appeal is heard.  In the World Wide Rush case, the time between the city’s appeal and the 9th Circuit’s final ruling was 22 months.  That length of time would mean a significant amount of revenue to the company for signs that in the past have advertised movies, video games, alcoholic beverages, and cars, among other things.

Vanguard’s attorneys argued in filings today that if the stay of enforcement isn’t granted the company owned by a Laguna Beach woman named Pamela Anderson will be forced out of business.   Earlier this year, the city filed criminal charges against Anderson, a sign installer, and the owner of property at 3000 Robertson Blvd.,  alleging that two giant supergraphic signs on that property posed a fire and safety hazard.

In testimony at a recent hearing in L.A. County Superior Court, city officials testified that one of the supergraphic signs, covering  most of the side of a four-story parking structure, could block the escape of smoke and endanger lives in the event of a vehicle fire.  Officials also testified that a row of high-intensity lights installed without permits above a supergraphic sign on another side of the building could interfere with the ability of firefighters to position ladders to the roof in the event of a fire.   The sign could also make it difficult for firefighters to determine the location of windows on the building’s covered facade, officials said.

The City Attorney’s office has also filed a civil lawsuit against Vanguard Outdoor, charging the company with putting up illegal supergraphic signs on five L.A. buildings.

Dennis Hathaway

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