May It Please the Court® A Weblog of Legal News & Observations
Quote of the Day - It's pretty exciting to get into Vegas and see your billboards up over the strip. - René Ruiz

Do Billboards Have A Right To Be Seen?

Do you want to see billboards?  Do billboard owners and advertisers want you to see their billboards?  Do counties, cities and towns want beautiful roadscapes?

How do you balance those three wants and needs when they collide?

Back in 2000 just before the Democratic National Convention, the City of Los Angeles decided that it needed to sprucify its streets, especially around LAX, and in particular, Century Boulevard.  I've been on that road, and it needs more than trees to spruce it up.  My opinion aside, however, the City planted the trees, which grew and grew and grew.

So much so that they started blocking Regency Outdoor Advertising billboards at LAX, which caused Regency to lose a lot of revenue.  The trees were initially vandalized, resulting in better visibility of the billboards, but they still grew back, blocking the billboards again.  Regency then sued the City for inverse condemnation.

Regency argued that its billboards had a right to be seen.

That's the exact opposite of the typical argument about view.  Most plaintiffs sue to preserve their view of the ocean, mountains or city lights, not the other way around.

Regency lost its argument in the trial court, the court of appeals and finally two days ago in the California Supreme Court.  The courts each determined that the City had a right to plant the trees, and that Regency had no Constitutional right to have its billboards be seen.  The Supreme Court conducted an exhaustive examination of Regency's arguments, which include abutter's rights and the right of businesses to have their storefront signs seen from the roadway. 

The court concluded that the City had a right to plant trees to beautify the street and enhance commerce, but that Regency did not have a right to have its billboards be seen that would justify any eminent domain or inverse condemnation payment.

Unfortunately, we still have to see Century Boulevard, even after the Democrats left.

Posted by J. Craig Williams on Thursday, August 10, 2006

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