Advertising dollars, trees clash in L.A. lawsuit

Must city pay billboard owner for blocked views?

Century Boulevard is the primary entry street from Los Angeles International Airport to the City of Los Angeles. To upgrade the boulevard, the city planted mature palm trees in the median and along the curbs. All the trees were planted on city-owned property.

Regency Outdoor Advertising Inc. owns many billboards along the street, and it argued the tall trees block drivers’ views of its billboards, thus decreasing the value of the signs. But the city refused to move its trees.

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Regency brought a lawsuit against the city. The claim was for “inverse condemnation,” which means government action that takes full or partial use of private property without compensation.

Before the trial began, the city offered Regency $1,000 plus removal of one palm tree that blocked viewing of a billboard. Regency refused the settlement offer and proceeded to trial.

If you were the judge would you rule the city must pay the billboard company for partial blocking of the views by planting the tall palm trees?

The judge said no!

Occupiers of roadside businesses do not have a constitutional right to be seen from the street, the judge began. Impairment of commercial visibility from roads is not compensable, he continued.

Government agencies are entitled to erect various structures, fences and plantings, which might, as an unintended consequence, block the views of adjoining businesses or signs, the judge ruled.

Because the city spent considerable funds hiring expert witnesses to testify, and the city was the prevailing party in the lawsuit, Regency is ordered to pay the city’s $99,146 expert witness fees, the judge concluded.

Based on the 2006 California Supreme Court decision in Regency Outdoor Advertising Inc. v. City of Los Angeles, 46 Cal.Rptr.3d 742.

(For more information on Bob Bruss publications, visit his
Real Estate Center
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