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Judge to invalidate L.A.'s digital sign pact

The city's 2006 settlement with CBS Outdoor and Clear Channel Outdoor 'is poison,' judge says.

October 31, 2009|Maeve Reston

A judge said Friday that he plans to invalidate a 2006 settlement between the city of Los Angeles and two companies, CBS Outdoor and Clear Channel Outdoor, that allowed them to convert 840 conventional billboards to a digital format.

Former City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo negotiated the agreement with the two companies after they sued the city over its 2002 billboard regulations.

Digital signs soon began popping up all over Los Angeles, infuriating homeowner groups and becoming a key issue in this year's city elections. Bowing to the public outcry, the City Council passed a temporary sign moratorium last year and banned digital billboards in August.

On Friday, L.A. County Superior Court Judge Terry A. Green said he agreed with Summit Media's argument in its lawsuit against the city over the settlement agreement. The rival billboard company contends that officials acted beyond the scope of their authority by granting CBS Outdoor and Clear Channel rights to modernize their billboards while other companies were not allowed to do so.

"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," the judge said at the end of the hearing.

He is still weighing whether he will void the permits for the 101 signs that were digitized after the settlement or nullify the agreement and allow citizens to challenge individual signs.

Summit's attorney, Timothy Alger, asked the judge to revoke the permits for all of the digital billboards changed under the agreement. But Laura Brill, the attorney representing CBS Outdoor and Clear Channel, said the permits should not be withdrawn without a case-by-case administrative hearing.

Dennis Hathaway, president of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight, said challenging the legality of individual signs would place "a huge burden on the public."

Several council members cheered the judge's decision. In a motion Friday, Councilman Paul Koretz said any billboards modernized under the settlement should be converted back to non-digital signs.

"Most people consider [the digital signs] to be a huge intrusion on their lives," Koretz said. He said he hopes the judge "will go the most restrictive route."

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maeve.reston@latimes.com

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