Digital Billboard Lawsuit Timeline and Documents
The following timeline and associated documents chronicle the events surrounding the Scenic Nevada digital billboard lawsuit.
History of the Struggle Against Digital Billboards in Reno
January 20, 2000
- Following repeated attempts by Reno citizens to persuade the Reno Planning Commission and City Council to enact stronger billboard controls, a grassroots, volunteer organization called “Citizens for a Scenic Reno” (later renamed Scenic Nevada) was formed.
March 29, 2000
- CFASR filed an Initiative Petition, R-1, with the Reno City Clerk which if passed would prohibit the city from allowing new billboard permits and new billboard construction.
November 7, 2000
- At the polls, of the 57,782 votes cast, 32,765, or 57%, voted in favor of Ballot Question R-1, which read: “The construction of new off-premises advertising displays/billboards is prohibited, and the City of Reno may not issue permits for their construction.”
- Less than one month after the ballot initiative become law, the city council granted 11 new billboard permits to a billboard company to settle a lawsuit brought against the city.
January 22, 2002
- A majority of the City Council voted to amend the municipal code to create a billboard “banking” and relocation system, allowing a billboard company to remove a billboard in one location and “bank” the permit for up to 10 years (later increased to 15 years) until a new permitted location could be found. The new law effectively repealed the ballot initiative barely 14 months after it was approved by the voters.
February 13, 2008
- A majority of the Reno City Council, led by Councilman Dwight Dortch, voted to direct Reno City staff to initiate a text amendment to allow the construction and permitting of new digital billboards. City officials, including the city attorney’s office, reasoned that the ballot initiative allowed relocations and now could also allow “upgrades” to digital billboards.
April 25, 2008-January 4, 2012
- The Reno Planning Commission and city staff held workshops and public hearings until a final draft of the code was recommended in a 4-2 vote for approval to the city council, permitting digital billboards in Reno. Scenic Nevada was present, objecting to the proposed code, during the four years of meetings and appealed the commission’s decision four days after the vote on January 4, 2012.
July 27, 2012
- Scenic Nevada releases results from a survey that shows 55% of the Reno registered voters surveyed do not want the city council to allow digital billboards. Further 80% believed there were enough or too many billboards in Reno and 60% did not want to view a digital billboard from their home or office window.
February 8-October 24, 2012
- The Reno City Council postponed Scenic Nevada’s appeal and held two more workshops, followed by staff meetings with the industry and Scenic Nevada. The industry-driven draft was finally approved after several delays at the Oct. 24, 2012 city council meeting. The council approved digital billboards but delayed the effective date until January 24, 2013, fearing the possibility of lawsuits.
November 16, 2012
- Scenic Nevada files a lawsuit asking the court to void the new law. Scenic Nevada’s objections to the digital billboard ordinance were long-standing and consistent. We testified over and over again that allowing digital billboards within the Reno city limits was a violation of the voter initiative. Throughout the previous four years we accumulated and submitted thousands of pages of documents, including reports, emails, photographs, videos, scientific studies, power point presentations, related court cases, a petition and voter survey results; all opposing digital billboards.
December 12, 2012
- The Reno City Council passes a moratorium on digital billboards until all lawsuits and appeals concerning the digital billboard ordinance are resolved – with good reason. If Scenic Nevada wins and in the event digital billboards are approved and built, it could cost millions to have even one billboard taken down.
February 24, 2014
- A one-day bench trial was held in Second Judicial District Court before Judge Patrick Flanagan.
March 28, 2014
- Judge Flanagan releases his order that rules for the city and upholds the digital billboard ordinance.
March 29, 2014
- Scenic Nevada files an appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court.
November 3, 2015
- The state Supreme Court held oral arguments en banc; meaning all seven justices, not just a three-member panel hear the arguments.
June 30, 2016
- The Supreme court ruling issues its opinion. The justices uphold the digital billboard ordinance. But in a stunning declaration; the court said the city had amended the ballot initiative in violation of the state constitution, which temporarily voided the banking and relocation ordinances, casting doubt on the validity of all billboards erected and permits handed out between 2002 and 2012.
- Scenic Nevada launches an intense lobbying campaign to convince the Reno City Council to enforce the vote enacted by the people in 2000. Finally, the council unanimously agreed and called for a new moratorium until the billboard law could be rewritten to eliminate banking and relocation and the construction and permits for new billboards, including digital billboards.
February 14, 2017
- City Council votes on the moratorium, which barely passes in a 4-2 vote. Three council members switch their previous vote to enact the billboard ban and want to reconsider adding digital billboards, which would be new construction requiring new permits.
February 21, 2017
- The city council couldn’t agree on what to do about unused permits granted between 2002 and 2012, either. Scenic Nevada said they were void and the city attorney disagreed. We filed a second lawsuit asking the court to decide.
- Scenic Nevada commissioned a new survey of Reno voters and publicized the results. 78% agreed the city should enforce the ban; 83% were concerned about traffic safety; 74% were concerned about decreasing property values; 80% didn’t want to view a billboard from their home or office window; and 70% agreed that digital billboards make Reno less attractive.
- Three council members switched their position again and the Reno City Council voted unanimously to request a rewrite of the billboard ordinances to prohibit all new billboard construction, including digital billboards, plus end banking and relocation. The council agrees to wait for the court’s decision on the unused permits.
July 24, 2017
- Oral Arguments before Judge Scott Freeman are held in Second Judicial District Court on whether the unused billboard permits are valid.
August 2, 2017
- Judge Freeman grants Scenic Nevada’s request and voids the unused permits and orders the city to cease and desist from allowing new billboard construction using the voided permits.
August 29, 2017
- The city of Reno joins with the billboard company, Lamar Outdoor, to appeal Judge Freeman’s decision voiding the unused billboard permits to the Nevada Supreme Court.
September 15, 2017
- The new billboard ordinance was adopted and became law. It prohibits all new billboard construction, except for the unused billboard permits. Digital billboards are also prohibited and Lamar immediately sued the city to get it overturned.
- Nevada Supreme Court ordered settlement discussions.
November 15, 2017
- Settlement agreement is reached between the city, Lamar and Scenic Nevada to end all litigation, preserving the new billboard ban, in exchange for re-validating the unused permits voided by Judge Freeman. The city council unanimously approves the agreement one day after the 17th anniversary of the people’s vote in 2000 to prohibit the construction of all new billboards.