Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Legality of Bright Lights...

If you've been to Las Vegas, it doesn't take long to notice the city's love affair with brightly lit signs and billboards.  These high-tech, high-pixel creatures come in all shapes and sizes. 

Yet, rather than reside in Vegas (with a second habitat in Times Square), these creatures have begun to migrate to all parts of the country.  Sometimes it happens overnight in a Baltimore Colts-style operation.  Other times, the change is more obvious. 

In either case, many conventional billboards are being transformed into brightly-lit, pulsating versions of their more static ancestors.

Alot of questions arise when these changes occur.  Several involve complex legal issues.  Take, for instance, this dispute in Los Angeles:

The 92 digital signs began popping up several years ago after Los Angeles struck a deal with two billboard companies, Clear Channel Outdoor and CBS Outdoor, which had sued the city over its earlier sign regulations. The 2006 agreement, negotiated by former City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo, allowed Clear Channel Outdoor and CBS Outdoor to modernize up to 840 billboards in exchange for removing 98 -- 3% of their inventory. The City Council approved the deal, but a number of council members have said they did not grasp the effect it would have on some of their constituents.

Last year billboard competitor Summit Media sued the city, alleging that the 2006 settlement in effect exempted the two companies from city zoning laws that other firms were required to follow.

In November, Superior Court Judge Terry A. Green ruled in favor of Summit and invalidated the agreement. But Green said it was up to the city to determine whether to revoke the permits for the Clear Channel and CBS digital billboards. Councilmen Paul Koretz and Bill Rosendahl immediately called for converting all of the brightly lit signs back to traditional billboards, while council President Eric Garcetti and Councilman Ed Reyes proposed studying whether the signs should be modified or demolished. But CBS and Clear Channel appealed the ruling -- putting a stay on Green's order. Meanwhile, council members have asked city officials to evaluate their legal options.

You can read the entire L.A. Times article here.

Much of this dispute relates to the alleged "eyesore" or aesthetic problems with electronic billboards.  While that certainly is a valid ground for regulatory consideration, one might find an even stronger case related to the safety effect of brightly-lit digital billboards--especially those that rotate multiple ads.

I know personally that I've been driving along and found myself distracted by these type billboards.  So much so that I've heard of others involved in fender benders for this very reason.

Maybe the life/safety angle is a better challenge than the aesthetic one.

--Chad Emerson, Faulkner U.

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