A member of California's 2nd District Court of Appeal today signaled the court's support for revoking a settlement agreement between the city and Clear Channel Outdoor and CBS Outdoor that allowed the firms to install about 100 highly lucrative digital billboards around the city.
Calling them "tentative thoughts," Associate Justice Laurence Rubin signaled before oral arguments that his three-judge panel would find the agreement "void for all purposes," according to the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office.
Rubin said his tentative inclination was to send the case back to the lower court with an instruction to revoke the 100 or so digital sign permits.
City Councilman Paul Krekorian, chairman of the city’s Budget and Finance Committee, and representing District 2, has long worked to restrict billboards citywide. He released the following statement:
Today's tentative ruling, if it is finalized by the Court, will be a big step forward in achieving one of the City's primary goals: a significant reduction in the number of billboards citywide. Now is exactly the time to press forward and adopt a comprehensive policy to manage outdoor advertising that will achieve the three goals we set out in our motion last week -- reduction in the number of signs, revenues to assist communities that have suffered their impacts, and resolution once and for all of this long-simmering battle over past failures in policy making.
Achieving a positive solution that benefits all citizens of Los Angeles in this and future generations will be possible only if the Council continues to pursue those three goals in the most inclusive way possible, and that is exactly the kind of public dialogue that I hope our motion will produce.
The case dates back to 2006, when then-City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo cut a special agreement with Clear Channel and CBS to end a previous lawsuit over the city's billboard laws. The settlement gave the two companies permission to obtain permits for 420 digital signs each in exchange for taking down other static billboards.
The agreement drew a legal challenge from Summit Media, which was not part of the deal.
A Superior Court judge ruled in 2009 that the settlement was illegal and called it "poison." That led the city to stop issuing digital sign permits to the two billboard companies, but not before they were able to put up about 100 digital signs, mostly on the city's Westside.
Meanwhile, the City Council two weeks ago, at the urging of Clear Channel and CBS Outdoor, moved to accelerate a new agreement and draft regulations on digital signs aimed at resolving Summit's lawsuit, potentially allowing the companies to keep their 100 digital billboards and giving other firms a pathway to put up digital signs of their own.
Krekorian, who co-sponsored the motion, has said it is his intention to reduce the overall number of billboards.
It is unclear what effect the judge's "tentative thoughts" will have on the effort to draft new digital sign legislation.
Special Assistant City Attorney Jane Usher, who has represented the city in the lawsuit, said, "tentative rulings are just that, tentative. We would all be well served by waiting to see what the panel's written decision says."
The court is expected to issue its written decision within 90 days.
"We are disappointed in the court's tentative ruling, but we hope our oral arguments clarified key points to be considered in the final opinion," said Jim Cullinan, vice president of communications for Clear Channel Outdoor. "This tentative ruling does highlight the real need for a comprehensive legislative solution which is in the best interests of the city, community and the industry."
A representative for CBS Outdoor could not be immediately reached for comment.
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, a longtime critic of digital billboards, said he was "delighted" by the tentative ruling, characterizing it as a step in the right direction toward getting a revenue stream for what he called "polluting and harassing" signs.