October 11, 2007
City asks for narrowing of billboard injunction

Last month, the city was ordered to stop enforcing its billboard ordinance in an injunction granted as part of a lawsuit. Now the city has asked the judge to reconsider, saying the injunction was too broad.

Jim Moriarty, the attorney handling the case for the city, called the current situation a "disaster."

"Somebody could take a 200-foot banner and run it across I-10," he said. "It could say 'Fred's Cleaners,' or 'Out of Iraq Now,' or whatever."

You know, if this case hinges on a free-speech argument, I'm not sure that's the best way to defend yourself.

The city's motion suggested that people already are taking advantage of the injunction. Inspectors have noticed banner signs strung casually on roadside poles and electronic signs blinking and scrolling "at a rapid pace," according to an affidavit by Susan Luycx, division manager of sign administration.

Under the ordinance, electronic messages can only change once every five minutes, to prevent driver distraction.

"We believe the court has made an error," Moriarty said. "That doesn't mean that Houston should become the Wild West in regards to signs."

The injunction, by U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon, is overly broad, the motion said. The plaintiff in the lawsuit, RTM Media, has erected about 54 billboards in Houston's extraterritorial jurisdiction, a five-mile zone bordering the city.

But the city's sign ordinance regulates about 4,500 billboards and 66,000 "on-premise" signs, Moriarty said.

The city is asking Harmon to stay her previous order, and consider reducing its scope to apply only to the dispute with RTM Media and its clients.

No clue how likely this is. We'll see what RTM says in response.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 11, 2007 to Local politics