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Thursday, December 7, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Thursday, December 7, 2023 | Back issues
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Advertisers Accuse Small City of Self-Dealing

FAIRFIELD, Calif. (CN) - Digital billboard advertisers claim the City of Dixon's new billboard moratorium was designed to crush competition, in Solano County Superior Court.

Pallco Enterprises, Inc. dba Orion Outdoor Media and Stott Outdoor Advertising sued the City of Dixon for civil rights violations including prior restraint of free speech, unconstitutional application of a zoning ordinance in violation of their right to free speech, violation of due process, Sherman Anti-Trust Act violations and intentional interference with prospective advantage.

According to the lawsuit, Orion leased land from non-party Solano Irrigation District (SID) for a digital message-center sign. Stott leased land on the north side of Interstate 80 which locals refer to as "the Milk Farm," named after a restaurant bearing the name that used to be there, the lawsuit says.

The companies claim their proposed signs and locations complied with the city's rules. But the city blocked the projects from going forward to protect income from its own relationship with non-party Veale Investment Properties, the companies say.

In 2012, the city invited 22 companies to submit proposals for a digital sign on city-owned property, according to the complaint. Veale won the contract, the complaint says. In April 2014, the city approved Veale's proposed sign and in May found the proposed sign "categorically exempt from CEQA," according to the complaint.

A year later, Stott submitted an application for a similar sign on the Milk Farm property, but "received a letter stating its application was not complete for various reasons all of which were fabricated and outside the scope of [the] city's application and the requirements of California's Government Code," the complaint states.

In June, a city staffer told Orion its application for a sign "probably won't be approved and that the city can just enact a moratorium to stop applications. Then he said, 'that's what lawyers are for,' to the applicant at the planning counter," the complaint states.

Six days later, the Dixon City Council surprised Orion and Stott by establishing a 45-day moratorium on electronic message center signs in the city, according to the complaint. The next month the city council extended the moratorium another 10 months and 15 days, according to the complaint.

Orion and Stott contend that "the sole motivation behind the urgency legislation was to target two specific speakers, Orion and Stott, and certain messages - the commercial messages they intend to convey - because those messages would compete with messages [the] city is/was [conveying or] will convey on its digital message sign and thereby create competition that could reduce the monetary revenue city wants to receive from city sign," the complaint states.

If plaintiffs planned to use the digital signs solely for noncommercial speech or for advertising city believed would not affect the income stream for city sign, no moratorium would have been proposed or passed and therefore the ordinance is content based," it continues.

The city manager, representatives of the planning commission and city council members did not respond to requests for comment.

Orion and Stott seek $40,000 per month from Aug. 15, 2015 through the date of judgment, injunctive and declaratory relief, costs of suit and a jury trial.

Pallco Enterprises dba Orion Outdoor Media is represented by John David Pereira in Cameron Park. Stott Outdoor Advertising is represented by Jackson Glick of Harris, Sanford & Hamman in Gridley. Neither attorney was available for comment Friday.

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