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Trial Held Feb. 24; Ruling to Follow

 

Scenic Nevada’s lawsuit against the City of Reno went to trial Feb. 24 with the judge ultimately saying the important legal issues presented required a written decision.

Earlier, Judge Patrick Flanagan had said he would issue a decision from the bench.  That changed following the one-day trial February 24, when he took the case under submission.

Scenic Nevada is suing the city of Reno for passing an ordinance that allows digital billboards, despite a vote of the people in 2000 that banned new billboards and new permits. Scenic Nevada is asking the court to void the ordinance.

It’s uncertain when the judge’s decision will be announced. Meanwhile, a moratorium against digital billboards was put in place by the city council until the lawsuit and all appeals are resolved.

Scenic Nevada filed its lawsuit in November 2012 in Washoe County District Court. The city attempted but failed to get the lawsuit thrown out three times; in each instance, Judge Flanagan ruled that Scenic Nevada is entitled to its day in court.

Billboard company Saunders Outdoor also filed suit asking the judge to void the ordinance on constitutional grounds. The cases were consolidatated and heard together last Monday.

Scenic Nevada said in its lawsuit that the city violated the voter initiative ban on new construction and new permits when it approved the digital ordinance. Also, Scenic Nevada claims the city violated the federal Highway Beautification Act and its own ordinance, which both ban flashing, intermittent lighting on billboards. Under Reno's ordinance digital billboards will flash different ads as frequently as every eight seconds, night and day.

Throughout the four years of discussions leading up to adoption of the ordinance, staff was uncertain of the exact number of permits approved within city limits. Evidence at trial showed that Reno now has 294 billboard permits, 16 more than when the billboard ban was approved in 2000, due to annexations. Of those permits, 201 billboards are existing with the remaining 93 waiting for new locations. Under the city's new ordinance, multiple "banked" permits can be exchanged to put up a digital billboard.

The ban was passed by the people in November 2000 and trial evidence showed that the city inked a settlement agreement granting 12 new permits to a billboard company in December 2000, just one month after the ballot initiative became law.

Billboards contribute to blight, obstruct scenic views, negatively impact property values and affect the quality of life in neighborhoods. Digital signs are even more intrusive, distracting drivers and using far too much energy.