Posted by: Patricia Salkin | April 24, 2014

CA Court of Appeal Finds that Thirty-Five Foot Sign Was Not Entitled to Grandfathering Exemption from Local Sign Law

Amerco Real Estate Company, owner of a U–Haul truck rental facility along the eastern portion of West Capitol Avenue in West Sacramento had a 35–foot–high, freestanding two-pole sign holding three display panels. U–Haul lawfully installed the sign in 1976 and in 1993, the City enacted an ordinance limiting such pole signs to 12 feet in height in the City’s Central Business District, in which U–Haul is located. After providing notice, offering height compromises above 12 feet, the City brought an administrative nuisance action against U–Haul to reduce the sign’s height to 12 feet with a maximum of 112 square feet of freestanding sign space.

An administrative hearing officer found in the City’s favor along these lines. The City’s Board of Appeals, rejected U–Haul’s appeal that the sign was entitled to remain pursuant to section 5499, and affirmed the hearing officer’s decision. The trial court concluded that substantial evidence supported the locality’s findings that reducing the height of the pole sign at issue from 35 feet to the conforming height of 12 feet (in what is now the locality’s “Central Business District”) would not materially impair the sign’s visibility or communicative effectiveness. Based on this conclusion, the trial court denied the affected business’s petition for a writ of administrative mandate

The State Business and Professions Code section 5499 (hereafter, section 5499) “grandfathers” (i.e., legalizes) on-premises business signs that do not conform to a subsequently enacted local sign law as to height or size, if a conforming sign’s (1) visibility or (2) communicative effectiveness, would be materially impaired by special topographic circumstances. Section 5499 states, as pertinent, “Regardless of any … other law, no city or county shall require the removal of any on-premises advertising display on the basis of its height or size by requiring conformance with any ordinance or regulation introduced or adopted on or after March 12, 1983, if special topographic circumstances would result in a material impairment of the visibility of the display or the owner’s or user’s ability to adequately and effectively continue to communicate with the public through the use of the display.”

The Court of Appeals reasoned that West Capitol Avenue was transitioning from an auto-oriented boulevard to a pedestrian-oriented street, and there was substantial evidence supporting the City’s decision that a conforming sign would not be a materially less adequate or effective communication. This court therefore affirmed the holding of the trial court that this sign would not be exempt from the local sign law.

Amerco Real Est. Co. v. City of W. Sacramento, 169 Cal. Rptr. 3d 184, 193 (Cal. App. 3d Dist. 2014)

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