City likely to lose billboard lawsuit, court tells lawyers

The City Council's deal several years ago to introduce digital billboards to Los Angeles is likely to be invalidated by the 2nd District Court of Appeal, a panel of the court's judges told lawyers on Tuesday. The tentative ruling, revealed at a hearing for oral arguments in the case, would invalidate the permits for the 100 or so digital signs already up and prevent the erection of several hundred more that had City Hall's blessing.

The City Council's 2006 deal was with two main billboard owners, Clear Channel Outdoor and CBS Outdoor. The arrangement gave the companies permission to put up 800 billboards around the city, and required them to take down a small number of the older, more common static billboards. Summit Media, which was left out of the deal, sued for the agreement to be invalidated. A Superior Court judge agreed with Summit in 2009, stopping the installation of new digital billboards. The appeals court is likely to uphold that lower court ruling formally in the next 90 days or so.

Activists hailed the news — they say the digital billboards are too bright and disrupt neighborhoods. The City Council, anticipating that its 2006 pact to allow Clear Channel and CBS to put up digital billboards would be struck down, had recently begun talks with the companies to rewrite the rules. That became controversial because the anti-billboard activists suspect that City Hall wants to approve additional billboards and use them to collect new revenue for the city, and because a Clear Channel executive helped draft the policy being discussed by the City Council.

I talked about the billboard issue during Monday's LA Observed segment on KCRW, which airs at 4:44 p.m. during the NPR news show "All Things Considered."

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