9th Circuit upholds L.A.'s billboard ban

By The Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court yesterday upheld the city of Los Angeles' ban on most new billboards.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a trial court judge's ruling in favor of billboard company Metro Lights LLC, which argued that the 2002 law violated its free-speech rights.

The company also complained of a double standard because the city itself continues to sell advertising on public property such as bus shelters and restrooms.

But a unanimous three-judge panel said in Metro Lights LLC v. City of Los Angeles that the city's ban passed constitutional muster because it served a legitimate and narrow government goal of fostering traffic safety and eliminating blight.

The company accused the city of auctioning off "First Amendment rights to the highest bidder."

"This is strong, if rather sloganeering language, but after reviewing the case law on which Metro Lights relies, we believe it to be little more than a canard," the court wrote.

Paul E. Fisher, who represents Metro Lights, said his client had not decided whether to appeal.

"It's certainly a significant ruling, and it is a blow to the outdoor-advertising industry," he said, adding that the opinion could influence other lawsuits over municipal sign laws in other cities.

Since Los Angeles' billboard ban was approved seven years ago, City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo has responded to at least a dozen lawsuits from outdoor-advertising companies.

The City Council approved a three-month moratorium on new billboards that went into effect Dec. 26.