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Lamar Advertising Co. v. County of Los Angeles

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Eighth Division

May 8, 2018

LAMAR ADVERTISING COMPANY, Plaintiff and Appellant,
COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES et al., Defendants and Respondents.

          APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. No. BS141216, Amy Hogue, Judge. Affirmed.

          Gresham, Savage, Nolan & Tilden, Theodore K. Stream and Andrea Rodriguez, for Plaintiff and Appellant.

          Mary C. Wickham, County Counsel, Elaine M. Lemke, Assistant County Counsel, Tracy Swann and Casey Yourn, Deputy County Counsel, for Defendants and Respondents.

          RUBIN, J.

         In 2008, a billboard owned by Lamar Advertising Company was blown over in a windstorm. Lamar rebuilt the billboard and was cited by the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning (Department) for violating County zoning ordinances. Lamar appealed the order. A Department hearing officer denied the appeal, and Lamar filed a petition for writ of mandate in the trial court. The trial court denied the petition. Lamar now appeals the ensuing judgment. Lamar argues that it was authorized to rebuild the billboard without interference by local authorities. We find no error and affirm.


         1. The Erection of the Billboard

         In 1967, the Department of Public Works granted a permit to Lamar's predecessor to erect a billboard in an unincorporated area of Acton in Los Angeles County (County) alongside the Antelope Valley Freeway.[1] Lamar later acquired ownership of the billboard. The structure consisted of ten wooden telephone poles supporting a sixty-foot advertising face.

         In 1995, the County adopted an ordinance banning billboards in the area where Lamar's billboard was located. (Los Angeles County Code (LACC), § 22.44.126.) Under the ordinance, the subject billboard became a “non-conforming” structure with a five-year amortization period after which time Lamar had to either remove the billboard or secure a permit from the County allowing the billboard to remain. (LACC § 22.56.1540(B)(1)(d); see National Advertising Co. v. County of Monterey (1970) 1 Cal.3d 875, 878 [“zoning legislation may validly provide for the eventual discontinuance of nonconforming uses within a prescribed reasonable amortization period commensurate with the investment involved”].)

         The five-year amortization period passed. Lamar did not secure a permit for the billboard to remain on the property, and the County did not seek to remove the billboard.

         2. Lamar's Initial Interest in Upgrading

         In August 2007, the Department conducted an investigation into illegal billboards along the Antelope Valley Freeway. A Department employee observed that the posts supporting the subject billboard were “weathered” and “aged, ” and one had fallen down.

         In early 2008, Lamar's real estate manager, Bruce Haney, inquired of a Department zoning enforcement officer, Daniel Geringer, about the guidelines for upgrading the billboard. Lamar sought to repair the structure's support mechanisms. Geringer told Haney that Lamar had to submit a Non-Conforming Review application to the Department in order to obtain permission to repair the billboard. Haney responded that “time, effort and funds” spent on such a review would be “pointless” given the local area was a billboard exclusion zone. Haney then asked what procedures were required for a billboard damaged or blown over due to environmental conditions. Geringer reiterated the previous procedure.

         3. The Windstorm and Subsequent Repairs

         In November 2008, a windstorm blew over the billboard and toppled one of the support poles to which an electrical box was attached. A photo of the scene after the storm showed eight wooden poles connected to each other by three of the remaining lateral wooden boards. Lamar subsequently installed a new advertising face, new lateral supports, a new electrical box and wiring, and a new catwalk. Five overhead lighting fixtures were replaced with three larger lighting fixtures installed below the advertising face. The advertising face itself was redesigned to cover a smaller surface and rest on only seven poles.

         In March 2009, Geringer observed a commercial vehicle working on the advertising face and support structures of the billboard. In April 2009, the Department issued a Notice of Violation to the property owner stating that the billboard was in violation of local zoning ordinances. In June 2009, the Department issued a Final Zoning Enforcement Order ordering the removal of the billboard.

         4. The Administrative Appeal

         That month, Lamar appealed the Department's order, arguing that it was entitled to rebuild the billboard under California Code of Regulations (Regulations) section 2271, which provides that a billboard owner has 60 days to conduct repairs after receiving notice of damage from CalTrans. The appeal proceeded to an administrative hearing. The hearing officer suggested that Lamar submit a Non-Conforming Use Review application and Lamar agreed. The hearing officer agreed to stay the administrative appeal while Lamar pursued its application.

         5. The Non-Conforming Use Review Application

         In November 2009, Lamar submitted its application to the Department. The Department prepared a draft order approving the billboard's continued non-conforming use with the condition that Lamar remove the billboard in five years. Lamar rejected the proposed condition. The Department then prepared a revised order approving Lamar's application on the conditions that Lamar deposit $2, 000 to compensate the Department for inspections, and indemnify the County for any action to annul the permit. Lamar rejected the proposed conditions and withdrew its application.

         6. The Resumption of the ...

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