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AGOURA HILLS : Hearing Is Delayed in Freeway Sign Lawsuit

November 17, 1994|FRANK MANNING

A court hearing that was scheduled Wednesday in a lawsuit filed against Agoura Hills by 12 businesses over the issue of freeway signs has been postponed, according to an attorney for the city.

A clerk in Van Nuys Superior Court postponed the hearing until Feb. 15 at 9 a.m., said Mitchell Abbott, an attorney for Richards, Watson & Gershon.

No reason was given for the delay, Abbott said, but apparently it was caused by "an internal glitch with court staff."

The businesses have sued the city to win the right to keep their freeway signs, which the city outlawed as eyesores in 1985. The businesses--which were supposed to have removed their signs by March, 1992--have balked, saying they will lose business if the signs come down.

Abbott said that while the city is not happy over the delay, the city will wait to get a judge's ruling before taking future action.

"If we forced them to take down the signs now, and later, if it turns out the ordinance was not valid, the city could be held liable for the cost of putting the signs back up," he said. "And that is a risk most cities do not want to take."

City officials argue that they acted at the behest of residents--who have overwhelmingly backed the ordinance in two referendums since the ordinance was passed--when the approved the sign ordinance.

The 12 firms involved in the suit are Chevron, Unocal, Burger King, Texaco, Lumber City, Fence Factory, Roadside Lumber and Hardware, McDonald's Denny's, Jack-in-the-Box, Horse Trailers International and Mobil.

Robert Aran, an attorney who represents some of the freeway sign owners, said the California Business and Professions Code--which he helped write--allows businesses to have such signs if they need them to attract business.

Abbott says the code is irrelevant because it deals with size and height issues. The city, Abbott notes, is not attempting to regulate the signs' height or size, but wants to remove them altogether.

The pole sign issue has also created controversy in Calabasas, where the Planning Commission recently ordered two businesses, Calabasas Mobil and Red Robin restaurant, to remove their non-complying pole signs within 90 days.

The signs violate a city ordinance prohibiting signs higher than 60 feet, the commission ruled. The two were invited to apply for permits for 42-foot signs.

They have the right to appeal the Planning Commission's decision to the City Council.

One recent case was settled amicably. In May, the City of Agoura Hills announced an agreement with Shell Oil, in which the company will take down a 70-foot pole sign in exchange for permits to build a carwash and mini-mart.

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