Scenic Nevada is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving, protecting, and enhancing the scenic character of Nevada. The following chronological events are some of our accomplishments and obstacles we have encountered since our inception.
Key Events in Scenic Nevada’s History
- 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.
- We filed an Initiative Petition, known as R-1, to prohibit the city from allowing new billboard permits and new billboard construction. It stated, “Off-premises advertising displays/billboards in the City of Reno are prohibited, and the City of Reno may not issue permits for their construction.”
- At the polls, of the 57,782 votes cast, 32,765, or 57%, voted in favor of Ballot Question R-1 with 43% or 25,017 voting no.
- A majority of the Reno 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 location could be found. The new law effectively repealed the ballot initiative barely 14 months after it was approved by the voters.
- Reno City Council voted 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.
- The Reno Planning Commission and city staff held workshops and public hearings until a final draft of code was approved by the Reno 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 city’s decision to the court to void the new law because it violated the people’s billboard ban.
- After a one-day bench trial, the judge ruled for the city and upheld the digital billboard ordinance. Scenic Nevada filed an appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court. The Nevada Supreme Court held oral arguments en banc; meaning all seven justices reviewed the case.
- 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.
- 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 file a second lawsuit asking the court to decide. The court granted 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.
- After survey results show overwhelming support to enforce the people’s billboard ban, the Reno City Council votes unanimously to adopt a new billboard law. It prohibits all new billboard construction, except for those who are holding unused billboard permits and finally eliminates banking and relocation. Digital billboards are also prohibited. Lamar immediately sued the city to get it overturned.
- A court ordered 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 the court. 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.
- Scenic Nevada’s founder Douglas G. Smith, our dear friend, mentor and driving force, passed away March 25, 2019. Doug was at the helm of Scenic Nevada from its inception in 2000 until his retirement from our organization in 2014. The Nevada Senate honored Doug posthumously during a presentation at the state house for his decades-long public service and advocacy work to protect the scenic beauty of Nevada.
- Scenic Nevada filed a lawsuit in 2019 against the city and Lamar Advertising for a new 60-foot-tall billboard obstructing the viewshed of scenic south Reno. We asked the court to require the city to revoke the billboard permit and make Lamar remove the sign at its own expense. The district court dismissed our lawsuit as untimely. Scenic Nevada appealed to the state Supreme court, but the lower court decision to dismiss was upheld, leaving unanswered the question of whether the giant sign was erected in violation of city codes as we believe it was.
- Scenic Nevada filed a lawsuit against the city of Reno and a developer for three large bright, LED lit signs that we believe are billboards and would violate Reno’s sign code and the 2017 billboard Settlement Agreement. The proposed signs are included in a property development agreement approved by the council that also violates state law. The signs would destroy an iconic scenic mountain view essentially to promote a casino over natural beauty.
- The city and developer moved for dismissal but the motion was denied, paving the way for a court review of the development agreement. The Judge is expected to set a briefing schedule for all sides to submit written arguments. It’s not known whether there will be oral arguments, too. Also unknown is when a decision will be issued.