SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline) — A federal appeals court has upheld ordinances enacted by cities in California, banning mobile billboards in their cities.
Los Angeles, Santa Clarita, Rancho Cucamonga and Loma Linda all passed laws that prohibit the display of advertising on vehicles. The law also allows for civil penalties to be handed down to violators, in addition to vehicle impoundment.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the bans, finding that the cities all complied with the First Amendment by being content-neutral, reasonable and placing no restriction on speech.
“The court determined that in targeting 'advertising,' the ordinances regulated the manner (not the content) of the affected speech, and were narrowly tailored to achieve significant government interests," Victoria D. Hester, associate at Best Best & Krieger, told the Legal Newsline.
The ordinances come after changes were made to the Vehicle Code, allowing cities to regulate two kinds of mobile billboard advertising. The changes applied to ads outfitted to a portable, non-motorized vehicle and those attached to motorized vehicles.
Los Angeles’ ordinance outlines certain requirements that must not be violated in terms of height, length and width of the billboard on the vehicle. It also cites that the advertisements are prohibited if it is unsafe to drive with it.
The laws passed by Santa Clarita, Rancho Cucamonga and Loma Linda all make it illegal to park a vehicle with a mobile advertisement on a city street within these communities.
These cities are making the law as a way to improve the surroundings in their community, deeming these types of advertisements to be unsightly. They also say the ads are safety issue for the residents of the cities.
“The policymakers cite traffic control, public safety, and aesthetics as reasons for adopting the ordinances,” Hester said.
Some local business owners had sued the cities, alleging that the ordinance restricts their freedom of speech under the First Amendment. The business owners claimed the ban targets advertising content and no other types of content. They argued that the bans violate the First Amendment by targeting a specific type of content. The court disagreed.
While they may think this is the case, Hester said, “this ruling seems to fit within the established First Amendment jurisprudence regarding reasonable time, place and manner regulations on speech.”
The court said the cities are not focusing on one type of content of advertising with the ban. The court did rule that the cities' focus on traffic control, public safety and aesthetics as their reasons for enacting the law justified the ordinance. The court also said the cities were justified just based off aesthetics alone.
A ruling in Reed v. Town of Gilbert case also agreed that advertising does not mean a certain type of content. It merely means an activity that is occurring. In this case, the judge ruled that mobile billboards were content neutral.