Billboard company files federal lawsuit over Caltrans’ political sign restrictions

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TRACY, Calif. (KTXL) -- A billboard company in Tracy says it should be allowed to display a "Trump for President" sign in advance of the period when such political signs are allowed by the California Department of Transportation.

NorCal Outdoor Media, which is based in Livermore, filed a lawsuit in federal court saying such restrictions are unconstitutional.

The sign site in dispute currently shows an American flag alternating with a public service announcement urging motorists to not text and drive, but earlier, the site had a much smaller sign featuring a re-election message, simply saying "Trump 2020," expressing the political views of the billboard company.

According to California’s outdoor advertising act, political signs visible from within 660 feet of a state highway right of way is illegal if it’s more than 90 days from an election.

The Trump sign was displayed in busy Interstate 205 near Tracy Boulevard several weeks earlier than allowed since California's presidential primary is on March 3rd.

The law is not constitutional according to NorCal Outdoor Media attorney Joshua Furman who spoke to FOX40 from Southern California.

“Political speech is one of the fundamental important hallmarks of the first amendment," said Furman. "I think limiting political speech to certain timeframes is simply unacceptable."

In a lawsuit filed in federal court in Sacramento, Furman alleges that the Outdoor Advertising Act has dozens of exemptions.

Commercial advertising is allowed anytime. Signs identifying businesses are exempt as are real estate signs and any message signs sponsored by any government agency is exempt, even if it is political.

Furman gave a hypothetical involving anyone who wants a billboard objecting to any local issue.

"That private citizen is restricted from being able to speak," said Furman. "But the government or the school district can put up a sign a mile high and a mile wide with flashing neon lights with no restrictions. That’s the disparity we’re talking about and that’s why this act is unconstitutional."

NorCal Outdoor Media indicates that it wants the right to display political signs, paid by clients or not, at any time and at any of its locations.

Caltrans and state Attorney General Xavier Becerra are named as defendants. A spokesperson for Caltrans, which is tasked with enforcing the law, said it usually doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

 

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