Billboard Regulations: Cities and Counties
No State Preemption of Local Billboard Regulations, California Appellate Court Finds
The Outdoor Advertising Act does not preempt local regulation of billboards, a California appellate court has ruled. In a decision that carries major implications for the California billboard industry, the Second District Court of Appeal clarified in Arthur D’Egidio v. City of Santa Clarita that municipalities may enact billboard regulations that are more stringent than the Act and that a city may abate billboards in an annexation area where those billboards did not conform to county laws prior to annexation.
The billboard in question had originally conformed to the Los Angeles County sign ordinance as on-site advertising for a residential housing project. However, the sign was subsequently purchased by owners who committed the sign to general commercial advertising unrelated to on-site home sales. This new use did not conform to the County regulations at the time or to Santa Clarita’s regulations after the area was annexed. The sign’s owners argued that its non-conformance was irrelevant because section 5270 of the Act preempts all local regulation of freeway signs by providing that it is “exclusive of all other regulations . . . .”
The trial court granted summary judgment to the City in its billboard abatement lawsuit, finding no preemption of the City’s sign regulations. In a decision handed down Oct. 24, the Court of Appeal found that courts have interpreted this statutory provision inconsistently over the years. However, after an exhaustive review of section 5270’s legislative history and the Act’s overall structure, the D’Egidio v. City of Santa Clarita court held that “[d]espite [section 5270’s] statement of exclusivity, the Act also contains several provisions that authorize counties and cities to enact regulations or ordinances affecting the placing of billboards, imposing restrictions on advertising displays adjacent to any highway, or requiring permits and/or licenses for the placing of billboards in view of any highway.” Thus, section 5270 preempted neither the County’s nor the City’s billboard regulations.
The court also held that the City was not prevented from enforcing local sign laws against a non-conformity that began nearly 20 years ago, and it awarded the City attorney’s fees for its abatement efforts.
Here are three takeaways from this case:
- Municipal billboard regulations may be more restrictive than those found in the Act.
- Cities annexing billboards may apply city regulations to the billboards, subject to rules for amortization and related Constitutional constraints.
- A billboard’s legality may depend on its conformance to county regulations at the time of its placement.
Regulations may take the form of zoning ordinances or sign permits, for example. Cities and counties should pay close attention to the conformity of signs to regulations at the time they are constructed, when new ordinances are adopted and at the time annexations occur.
Best Best & Krieger LLP advises numerous public and private entities on these and related issues throughout California and other states. If you have any questions about this case and how it may impact your agency or project, please contact the attorney author of this Legal Alert listed to the right in the firm’s Municipal Law practice group, or your BB&K attorney.
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