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Judge calls digital billboard settlement agreement 'poison,' indicates he will void it

October 30, 2009 |  1:20 pm

A Superior Court judge indicated today that he planned to nullify a 2006 settlement between the city of Los Angeles and two companies, CBS Outdoor and Clear Channel, that allowed them to convert 840 of their billboards to a digital format.

That ruling would be a repudiation of former City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, who negotiated the settlement with the two companies after they sued Los Angeles over its 2002 billboard regulations.

A third billboard company, Summit Media, has sued the city, arguing the 2006 settlement was illegal because it granted CBS Outdoor and Clear Channel special rights to modernize hundreds of billboards at time when the city’s laws barred other companies from doing so.

So far, the two companies have converted only 101 signs to digital format. The City Council passed a new ban on digital billboards in August.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Terry A. Green signaled that he agreed with Summit that the city acted beyond the scope of its authority in entering into the settlement agreement and planned to issue a written ruling at a later date.

Green said that it "seems pretty much a slam dunk that there was a ban” on modernizing signs at that time, and that the city exempted CBS Outdoor and Clear Channel from city laws that applied to other billboard companies, giving them an advantage.

"Different rules applied to the real parties [CBS Outdoor and Clear Channel] that didn’t apply to anyone else in the industry," Green said.

“The entire agreement is poison,” Green said at the end of today's hearing after stating he planned to throw out the agreement.

But the judge said he was still deciding what he would do with the permits for the 101 signs that were modernized as a result of the agreement.

He said he planned to void the permits or simply say the agreement “is void and no longer in effect” and let citizens challenge the permits if they choose to do so.

Summit’s attorney Timothy Alger had asked the judge to revoke the permits for all 101 digital signs: “Invalidate the settlement agreement and all the evil that flowed from it,” he said.

But the attorney representing CBS Outdoor and Clear Channel, Laura Brill, said the permits should not be revoked without an administrative hearing to determine the legality of each sign.

Dennis Hathaway, president of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight, said challenging each sign would be “a terribly arduous process” that could place “a huge burden on the public.”

After the court hearing, Brill said that her clients believe the settlement agreement is valid and that they would await the judge’s ruling.

-- Maeve Reston

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