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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Judge Denies Injunction Against L.A. Digital Billboard Ban

U.S. District Judge Audrey B. Collins ruled Monday that Liberty Media Corp. did not show a likelihood that it would prevail in its procedural arguments against a month-old 29-page Los Angeles ban on digital billboards and multi-story "supergraphics".

The Libertarian Party platform says: "We support full freedom of expression and oppose government censorship, regulation or control of communications media and technology. The owners of property have the full right to control, use, dispose of, or in any manner enjoy, their property without interference, until and unless the exercise of their control infringes the valid rights of others.  We advocate the repeal of all laws banning or restricting the advertising of prices, products, or services."
Excerpts from a Reason magazine article by Katherine Mangu-Ward on L.A. billboards in January:

The city tried to ban new billboards in 2002, and the lawsuits got tedious for everyone involved. So the two sides cut a deal two years ago: Clear Channel and the other billboard companies dropped their challenge to the ban in exchange for permission to upgrade existing signs. Hidden inside the deal was an important detail: These upgrades wouldn’t require a zoning review.

There are about 11,000 billboards in the Los Angeles area, making it the biggest billboard media market in the country. Under the terms of the agreement, a digital billboard can only go up in place of an existing traditional billboard, which suggests that most of the neighborhoods in question aren’t exactly quasi-bucolic Wisteria Lanes.

City Council President Eric Garcetti wants to impose a temporary moratorium on billboard upgrades, and he is pushing a plan to use loopholes in the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to force all 850 upgradable billboards to go through environmental review. The savvy Garcetti is betting that by advancing under the green flag of truce he can find a way out of the mess he and his fellow city officials created, while simultaneously sucker punching the companies they negotiated with just two years ago. It’s not hard to envision the environmental review: “Wait! These illuminated billboards consume electricity?” the board will say in mock surprise. “They emit light? Well, we’ll have to look into that.” As the folks at the Curbed LA blog bluntly put it: “CEQA can kill anything.”

Language about light pollution and power consumption will be a cover for aesthetic complaints, as they often are. Aesthetics are all that’s left, since in most cases there aren’t even rapacious, lawbreaking corporations to blame: The companies were doing precisely what the city said they were allowed to do. Consistent, reasonable laws about property use make property more valuable. In an audacious double whammy, the city’s weaves and dodges have made the property of Silver Lake homeowners and billboard companies less valuable. Impressive.

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