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Friday, August 27, 2010

St. Paul billboard restriction nixed by federal court

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5 Comments:

Anonymous PIONEER PRESS said...

Why? No 'rational basis' found for ban

By Dave Orrick
dorrick@pioneerpress.com
Updated: 08/25/2010 11:05:01 PM CDT

In the years-long war between St. Paul and outdoor advertising companies, the Battle of the Billboard Extensions was won by the sign owners Wednesday.

For now, at least.

A federal appeals court Wednesday upheld a trial judge's ruling that St. Paul improperly attempted to ban billboard extensions — enlargements of billboards that stick out past the edges — in 2006.

The decision didn't sit well with activists who have waged a multi-pronged campaign against sign pollution in the city.

"What's to stop them from erecting a Viagra billboard with an extension?" said Ossian Or, chair of Scenic Minnesota. "Where does it end? It's a safety issue for distracted driving."

Driving safety, obstructed scenic views and general ugliness are the reasons for a series of regulations that St. Paul has enacted — with the support of Scenic Minnesota and Scenic St. Paul — over the years to restrict billboard extensions, billboard numbers, billboard size, billboard locations and digital billboard brightness and flashiness. The groups are currently pushing for regulations on electronic business signs and "window signs," which, like digital billboards before them, fall through current regulatory cracks.

But the reasons for the billboard extension crackdowns were never made clear when the city council deliberated and approved its ban, a panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled. The "council simply failed to articulate any rational basis,"
the ruling said.

Shortly after the restrictions were enacted, billboard company Clear Channel Outdoor Inc. sued, and that lawsuit kept the city from enforcing its new rules. Clear Channel won in court, and St. Paul appealed. On Wednesday, it lost that appeal.

Clear Channel representatives have consistently scolded the city for trying to, they contend, pass regulations that overreach their authority.

"We have always believed that the law protected our rights, and we are pleased with the decision," said Mike Zipko, a Clear Channel spokesman.

In its original lawsuit, the company alleged the restriction was unconstitutional, but the courts never ruled on that claim. According to the appellate court opinion, they didn't have to; the lack of a reason for the crackdown was enough to render it "unenforceable."

Council president Kathy Lantry said the city might start over.

"The city attorney's office has told me if it is still the policy wish of the council to prohibit extensions, they assured us they can help come up with a process and ordinance that will accomplish that goal," Lantry said. She said she didn't know whether the council would take that path.

Lantry, who was part of mediation efforts that attempted, but failed, to settle the billboard extension dispute out of court, said officials estimated 18 extensions existed in the city at the time the now-voided ordinance was approved.

Technically, no billboards are allowed in St. Paul. The several hundred that exist are all considered "non-conforming uses" that are grandfathered into being allowed to remain.

7:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

St. Paul seems to have a huge problem with the grandfathering issue. They're being sued by another group over the grandfathering crap also. Maybe the city council should pay the legal fees out of their own pocket instead of the taxpayers checkbook.

10:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Below is the quopte from Lantry that says it all, she is avove the law. So what if the court says we can't we will just follow another path.

This is the mentality of people like Chuck Repke and his Stop 35 group, but his group doesn't see any problem with the central light rail going through a minority neighborhood again (94 Rondo). 35E went through a white neighborhood and the Central Light Rail is going through a minority and the folks like Chuck and Lantry seen to think this is ok.

Lantry said, "The city attorney's office has told me if it is still the policy wish of the council to prohibit extensions, they assured us they can help come up with a process and ordinance that will accomplish that goal."

7:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

St. Paul is the billboard capital of Minnesota. The two deserve each other.

11:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"We have always believed that the law protected our rights, and we are pleased with the decision," said Mike Zipko, a Clear Channel spokesman.

What rights? I thought only people had rights? He can't mean their constitutional rights, can he?

1:24 PM  

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