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Metromedia, Inc. v. San Diego, City of

Citation: 9 ELR 20437
No. No. L.A. 30782, 592 P.2d 728/12 ERC 2089/23 Cal. 3d 762, (Cal., 03/21/1979)

The Supreme Court of California reverses a lower court's grant of summary judgment for plaintiffs in a suit by billboard owners challenging the constitutionality of a municipal ordinance with bans all off-site billboards and requires that existing billboards be removed after an amortization period. The court holds that the ordinance represents a proper exercise of the municipal power over zoning and land use. The purposes recited by the ordinance, i.e., the elimination of traffic hazards and the improvement of the city's appearance, are both proper and sufficient police power objectives, and plaintiffs have failed to show that the measure is not reasonably related to the achievement of these goals. The court rejects as anachronistic and unrealistic plaintiffs' further contention that cities may not completely prohibit a business not found to be a public nuisance, noting that there is no clear line between "prohibition" and "regulation." After examining the relevant case law, the court concludes further that the ordinance does not on its face abridge plaintiffs' rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution or the free speech clause of the California Constitution. Noting that cases concerning print media are not controlling because billboards are permanent structures subject to a municipality's zoning power, the court determines that the measure is a lawful regulation of the time, place, and manner of speech. In this regard, the court emphasizes that the ordinance does not seek to suppress the content of the advertiser's message and leaves open adequate alternative methods of communication. The court likewise holds that the municipal ordinance is not preempted by the state Outdoor Advertising Act and does not deny plaintiffs equal protection of the laws. Finally, the court holds erroneous the lower court's finding that the one- to four-year amortization period established by the ordinance is unreasonably short on its face but notes that plaintiffs may still show that it is unreasonable as applied to specific signs. The court also rules that the city's alleged noncompliance with the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act in enacting the ordinance cannot be asserted as a ground for sustaining the summary judgment because it was not properly raised before the trial court.

A dissent disputes the majority's conclusion that the ordinance does not unconstitutionally abridge freedom of speech.

Counsel for Plaintiffs-Respondents
Theodore B. Olson
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher
515 Flower St., Los Angeles CA 90071
(213) 488-7000

Oscar F. Irwin
Hillyer & Irwin
14th Floor, California First Bank Bldg., San Diego CA 92101
(714) 234-6121

John J. Bouma, Guy G. Gelbron
Snell & Wilmer
Valley Bank Center, Phoenix AZ 85073
(602) 257-7211

Joe N. Turner
Higgs, Fletcher & Mack
1800 Home Tower, 707 Broadway, San Diego CA 92112
(714) 236-1551

Counsel for Defendants-Appellants
John W. Witt, City Attorney; C. Alan Sumption, Deputy City Attorney
Municipal Bldg., San Diego CA 92101
(714) 236-6220

BIRD, C.J., and MOSK and MANUEL, JJ., concur.

NEWMAN, J., concurs in the result.