Scenic Nevada filed a new lawsuit against Reno to halt billboard construction, after a council decision last month that showed three members have no intention of honoring the people’s vote, which prohibits new billboards within the city limits.
Rather than waiting around to see what the council does next, Scenic Nevada filed a Petition for a Writ of Mandamus in Washoe County District Court to enjoin the city from issuing new permits to erect standard billboards. Click here to read the petition.
Judge Orders Oral Arguments
Judge Scott Freeman issued an order last week for the city to respond by March 31 and for oral arguments to take place. See the judge’s order.
At issue is whether the city can allow sign companies to use unconstitutionally-issued banked permits to erect new billboards.
Despite the people’s vote, the city has been handing out new billboard permits. When one billboard comes down, the sign owner can erect a new billboard in a new spot or “bank” the permit until a new location is found, leaving a back log of 82 unused permits.
New Billboards Were Prohibited by the People
The Nevada Supreme Court ruled last June that the City’s scheme violated the state constitution because it amended the people’s vote within three years of its passage. The court voided the ordinances based on the Nevada Constitution. But the court also said the city “re-enacted” the voided ordinances when it passed new digital billboard regulations in 2012, outside the three-year limit. That left a period of 10 years, from 2002 to 2012, of what the court called a period of “interim Invalidity.”
The court’s ruling means the only pertinent regulation on the books during that period of “interim invalidity” was the people’s billboard ban, which simply says, “The construction of new off premise displays/billboards is prohibited and the city may not issue permits for their construction.”
Our position is most of the remaining banked permits are invalid because the court found the ordinances allowing new permits unconstitutional and the city can’t rightfully allow the sign owners to use them to erect new billboards.
New Billboard Policy Gutted
Following the state Supreme Court’s ruling and urging by Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus and Scenic Nevada, the council finally agreed to stop handing out new billboard permits, close the billboard bank and rewrite the billboard ordinance to reflect the people’s vote. As a first step, the council agreed unanimously in December and again in January to adopt a moratorium to stop all billboard construction – freezing the use of banked permits – until city staff could develop the new regulations.
But without explanation, that new policy was torpedoed by Mayor Hillary Schieve and Council Members Oscar Delgado and Neoma Jardin who voted February 8 against the proposed moratorium for both standard and digital billboards. Although, Brekhus and Council Members Naomi Durer and Paul McKenzie voted for it, a tie vote fails. Councilman David Bobzien has claimed a conflict and declined to vote. A second motion passed 4-2 to halt only digital billboard applications, with Schieve and Jardon opposed. That means the city will continue to allow sign owners to use the invalid banked permits to erect standard billboards.
Meanwhile, the digital billboard moratorium is in place until the sign regulations are revised. Schieve, Delgado and Jardon have all signaled their intent to allow digital billboards in Reno, with Delgado saying he wants to restrict digitals near some residential neighborhoods. City staff is expected to bring proposed code revisions back at the next council meeting, March 22.
It’s uncertain what the city eventually will do. But we hope reasonable minds prevail. As we told Judge Freeman in our current lawsuit, “Billboards are, after all, treated as public nuisances under state statutes. The notion that the citizens of Reno would be unable to rid their community of public nuisances like billboards because the City betrayed the citizens’ vote by unconstitutionally issuing banked receipts for new billboard construction is fundamentally wrong under …the Nevada Constitution and wrong because it violates strong public policy.”
More than 32,700 Reno citizens voted in 2000 to prohibit the construction of new billboards and for the past 17 years, the city has not enforced that law which is still on the city’s books.
Scenic Nevada is a non-profit, staffed by volunteers, whose mission is to preserve, protect and enhance scenic beauty and community character in Nevada. We depend on the generosity of our members to continue our mission. If you haven’t renewed are aren’t members yet, consider donating today. Click here.
Many thanks from,
The Scenic Nevada Board