• Recent Court Rulings: Commercial Speech and the City of Los Angeles

    Several recent court rulings reiterate that commercial speech regulations, including signage restrictions based on content, are subject to “heightened scrutiny” evaluation and that government carries the burden of showing that the challenged regulation advances the Government’s interest in a direct and material way. “That burden is not satisfied by mere speculation or conjecture.” Rather, to survive scrutiny “a restriction on commercial speech must demonstrate that the harms it recites are real and that its restriction will in fact alleviate them to a material degree.”

    Under both California and Federal law, an onsite/offsite distinction is lawful, provided it does not regulate the content of the message, i.e., that differentiating between onsite and offsite signs does not constitute a content-based distinction. In addition, the court succinctly explained and reiterated the longstanding guidance of Central Hudson on how to assess sign regulations. In sum, significantly for the sign industry, the effect is that the status quo has been preserved.

    CSA and ISA continue to work diligently with the city to bring finality to this matter. Along the way, CSA, working with the billboard industry, had to fend off legislation proposing a statewide moratorium on digital signs (legislation penned by the current LA city attorney), as well as re-educate several times new council members and staffers, including a new Planning Director. CSA and ISA retained the services of local lobbyists to assist with the endeavor.

    What is the Lamar case about – and why is it important?

    In the one of the lawsuits, Lamar v. City of Los Angeles (initially decided in 2015), a state lower court judge ruled, among other points, that under the California Constitution there was no material difference between an onsite sign and an offsite sign, and the billboard ban was thus unconstitutional (a result contradictory to prior federal court rulings based on the US Constitution). The City appealed, and in an unusual twist, CSA and ISA filed “amicus” friend of the court briefs supporting the city (as did several Planning groups). CSA/ISA’s position was that if the appellate decision were upheld on appeal in favor of Lamar, it would seriously undermine California’s on-premise sign laws (sponsored by CSA 30 years ago), as well as result in an
    unrestricted proliferation of billboards, i.e., potentially every sign could be used for offsite advertising, jeopardizing the entire on-premise industry, and subjecting on-premise signs along
    the highway to Caltrans regulation.
    Read More – Full CSA Legal and Legislative Update (PDF)

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    About Jeffrey Aran

    Sign law expert serving the sign industry and its customers for over 20 years, providing legal and consulting services to sign users, installers and manufacturers. Based in Sacramento, Practice Areas include Zoning; Land Use; Real Estate; Constitutional Law; Employment; & Business. Admitted to the Bar in 1989. Law Offices of Jeffrey L. Aran 1-888-SIGNLAW.

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