Tuesday, December 15, 2009

U.S. Supreme Court Turns Down Billboard Appeal; Big Victory for Cities

Illegal Metro Lights/ FUEL street-level ads (photo: Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight)

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday provided good news to scenic advocates across the country as it refused to hear an appeal by a billboard company challenging Los Angeles' prohibition of billboards in 2002. The closely watched case addressed important free speech issues and the billboard company was assisted by noted consitutional scholar Laurance Tribe.

The federal district court judge agreed with Metro Lights claim that LA violated its free speech rights because the city itself generating revenue from a sanctioned "street furniture" billboard program on public property. However, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that ruling and yesterday's decision by the Supreme Court is another important victory for the right of communities to control outdoor advertising. While scenic advocates generally disagree with street furniture ads on public property, the decision of a city to engage in the practice should not prohibit it from being able to control visual clutter by banning billboards elsewhere.

Scenic America notes that Metro Lights (now called FUEL) has been a litigious thorn in the side of large cities across the nation. It has placed thousands of illegal signs in Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, New York, Washington, D.C. and elsewhere, and its threat of legal action against any removal of its illegal signs has had the intended effect of delaying municipal action.

Yesterday's Supreme Court decision should now encourage these cities to restore the visual character of their communities by reigning in rouge advertising companies like Metro Lights. And as the LA-based Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight notes, a court ordered disgorgement of the huge profits Metro Lights/ FUEL made in LA with these illegal signs would send a strong message.

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