The ban on new billboards, approved by a majority of Reno voters 17 years ago, is now the law.

During a brief five-minute hearing Wednesday, September 13, the Reno City Council unanimously gave final approval to a billboard ordinance rewrite that topples all past efforts to perpetuate billboards and the clutter and blight they bring to Reno’s city streets and highways.

Effective today, September 15, 2017, the new law prohibits digital billboards and the practice of allowing new billboards to replace demolished displays, known as “banking and relocation.”

Billboard-free view in Washoe County along I-580

Enforcing the People’s Ban

The city’s new billboard policy and ordinance enforces a billboard ban approved by the people in a 2000 ballot initiative. The people’s vote was never enforced by the previous city council. Instead, it allowed new billboards and new permits on a routine basis. When a billboard was demolished, sign owners were granted a new permit to build in a new location or a “banked” permit until a new spot could be found. Then in 2012 the former council approved digital billboards, but put those regulations on hold until the legal challenge to digitals was resolved in the courts.

Today there are about 182 existing billboards within Reno city limits that are not affected by the ban. There are also about 82 unused banked permits available to become new billboards. Scenic Nevada challenged 66 of them and won a court order last month to have those permits voided. But, our win in district court is being appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court by billboard industry giant Lamar Central Outdoor and the city.

The new law bans digital billboards and halts the practice of handing out new permits for demolished billboards. That means no new billboards will be allowed within Reno, once the existing banked permits are used, expire or are voided. It also stops the city from allowing any new billboards based on the challenged 66 banked permits, until pending litigation ends.

Good for the Entire Region

Scenic Nevada was the author of the 2000 ballot initiative to ban new billboards. Since it passed with 57% of the vote, we’ve fought for enforcement in public hearings and the courts.

Finally, the state Supreme Court in 2016 said the practice of allowing new billboards to replaced demolished displays was an unconstitutional amendment to the people’s vote.

That ruling and a new city council – willing to listen to the voters – led to the change in policy and finally a new law. Council Member Jenny Brekhus, early on, led the charge against allowing digital billboards, with Council Members Naomi Duerr and Paul McKenzie urging the council to enforce the people’s ban. Thanks to the Reno City Council, Reno Planning Commission, city staff and the community for their support of the new law.

Reno now joins Washoe County and the ranks of many other communities nationwide that have adopted billboards bans. Four states, Alaska, Hawaii, Maine and Vermont also ban billboards. In Nevada, state regulations under review would allow digital billboards only if digitals are allowed within the local jurisdiction. That means the state would not permit digital billboards along Interstates 80 and 580 within Reno city limits or unincorporated Washoe County areas.