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NewsPress • Billboards: Freedom of speech or visual nuisance?

San Mateo Daily Journal
Billboards: Freedom of speech or visual nuisance?

The following newspaper article has been included on this website for informational purposes only.

The original article was published in the San Mateo Daily Journal, Wednesday, May 9, 2001. By Devona Walker Daily Journal Staff (05-09-01)

Valley Outdoor, Inc. is attempting to send a clear message to the city of San Mateo that it cannot use broad discretionary freedoms to outlaw the content of commercial billboard signs.

The city is currently involved in lititgation with the Valley Outdoor Media, Inc. that would seek to outlaw the city billboard ordinance, and the impending litigation has a few surrounding city attorneys taking notice.

At Monday night Burlingame City Council meeting, City Attorney Larry Anderson urged for the passing of an emergency ordinance regarding billboard signage in an effort to offset the potential of litigation against the city.

"The 25-year-old sign code may be invalid," Anderson said. "It gives a lot of discretion to the Planning Commission and the City Council to go around. We usually attempt to provide you with more discretion, but in this case we are attempting eliminate some of that discretion."

The urgency ordinance will return to the City Council in two weeks for approval.

Essentially the newly adopted ordinance will provide less restrictive guidelines for noncommercial signage.

Currently in San Mateo, there are different rules for noncommercial and commercial signage, which provides more leniency for commercial signage.

San Mateo City Attorney Roy Abrams said that the city is currently in the process of trying to resolve the lawsuits of West Hollywood-based Valley Outdoor and another outdoor advertising firm outside of Riverside County.

The suits are expected to go on for quite some time, but according to Abrams, the city is willing to stand behind its existing ordinance.

Valley Outdoor Media has located Miami-based artist Steve Gagnon, whose works in large part speak to the consumerism spirit that drives America, to display on the disputed billboard sign along U.S. Highway 101 on land that has been leased by SamTrans.

"They believe my pieces represent freedom of speech," Gagnon said. "For me the piece is created to reflect upon American culture, something all Americans can relate to.

"I found being an American meant many different things. And I wanted to be something all Americans can relate to. All Americans can relate to propagation of money as the driving force of many people lives."

Billboards: Freedom of speech or visual nuisance?