Judge Flanagan rules for the City of Reno
After a one-day trial in Washoe District Court on Feb. 24, the judge released a decision March 27 to uphold the digital billboard ordinance. Scenic Nevada filed a Notice of Appeal, which was accepted by the Nevada Supreme Court on March 28.
Scenic Nevada will appeal Judge Patrick Flanagan’s ruling that allows the city of Reno’s digital billboard ordinance to stand, despite a vote of the people in 2000 that prohibits construction of new billboards.
The city was sued by Scenic Nevada and billboard company Saunders Outdoor in November 2012, following the City Council vote to approve digital billboards in Reno. Scenic Nevada asked the court to void the new law because it violates the voters’ rights, as well as state and federal law.
Besides ruling against Scenic Nevada, Judge Flanagan also ruled against Saunders Outdoor’s constitutional arguments.
Scenic Nevada maintained throughout trial and the previous four years of public hearings that allowing digital billboards violates the people’s vote because digital billboards are new construction, requiring new permits.
The 2000 ballot initiative, approved by over 32,000 people, says:
“The construction of new off premise advertising displays/billboards is prohibited and the City of Reno may not issue permits for their construction.”
The judge’s decision was based in part on the definition of the word new. The city attorney argued at trial that the initiative was merely a cap on the number of billboards, set at 278 at the time of the vote. The city got around the vote by saying the word “new” means “additional” construction, and as long as the cap was not exceeded new permits and new construction would be allowed – including digital billboards.
If a billboard came down in one neighborhood, the owner was allowed to get a new permit to construct a new billboard in a different location. The ban became a cap and new construction and new permits were routinely allowed.
In 2008 billboard industry giant Clear Channel Outdoor asked Councilman Dwight Dortch to expand the billboard presence further in Reno by allowing digitals signs. After four years of hearings and over the objections of Scenic Nevada, the city council approved the ordinance allowing digital billboards.Billboards obstruct scenic views, encourage blight, and clutter neighborhoods. A far more intrusive version than traditional billboards, these electronic signs flip brightly lit rotating advertisements every eight seconds night and day. Digital billboards distract drivers, use far too much energy and interfere with dark night skies.