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Judge strikes down deal allowing digital billboards

November 5, 2009 |  6:51 pm

A judge has formally invalidated a 2006 settlement between the city of Los Angeles and two companies, CBS Outdoor and Clear Channel Outdoor, that granted them special rights to convert as many as 840 billboards to a digital format, among other changes.

The settlement was negotiated by former City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo after the two companies sued the city over its billboard regulations.

Another billboard company, Summit Media, challenged the settlement last year, arguing it was illegal because the city allowed the companies to make sign changes barred under city law.

In a written ruling this week, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Terry A. Green said he agreed with Summit. He found that the city acted beyond the scope of its authority when it allowed the two companies to convert their conventional wood-and-vinyl signs to the bright digital signs that have infuriated neighborhood groups and prompted complaints from drivers.

Summit had asked Green to invalidate all the permits issued to the companies as a result of the settlement — raising the possibility that the digital signs would have to be removed. But Green wrote in his ruling that revocation of permits was an administrative issue for the city.

“With the protections of the settlement agreement gone, the city’s administrative hearings would no longer be a futile exercise and the city must apply its codes equally to all,” the judge wrote. “Citizen challenges to the billboards could be made on an individual basis, with the merits of each determined independently.”

He said the city’s elected officials were in the best position “to make these determinations and to decide what standards are to be applied.”

City Councilman Paul Koretz has already asked the council to let Green’s ruling stand and require companies to convert their digital signs back to conventional billboards.

“Unless there’s a legal reason preventing us from doing so, I’d like to see us start taking down some of these digital billboards,” Koretz said.

A spokesman for the city attorney’s office said lawyers were reviewing the ruling and planned to advise council members of their options. Representatives of Clear Channel Outdoor and CBS Outdoor said they planned to appeal.

Summit's attorney, Anthony P. Alden, said the ruling was a victory for the people of Los Angeles. "We're confident that city officials will now do the right thing and revoke the permits for the existing digital signs — and insist that the signs be promptly turned off and removed," Alden said.

—Maeve Reston at Los Angeles City Hall

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