The Porterville City Council will take up the issue of if it should eventually, in effect, ban all off-site billboard advertising within the city limits.

The matter is a scheduled item on the agenda for the council's meeting to be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The matter came up during oral communications at the council's last meeting on October 5 in which Living Word Fellowship Church Pastor Brent Whitley raised a concern about a billboard on Highway 65 near a local school.

The billboard is sponsored by Visalia's The Source LGBT+ Center and features two bare-chested men while advertising for free testing for sexually-transmitted diseases.

The City of Porterville already actually has a “content-neutral” ordinance prohibiting “ALL” off-site billboard advertising, city staff reported

The ordinance effectively stops the development of new billboard signs in the city. But there are still “non-conforming” billboard signs already in the city that are permitted, including the one on Highway 65.

The council will in effect on Tuesday consider how long the sign on Highway 65 will be allowed to stay, known as the “amortization period.” This is done so companies that sponsor the billboards don't completely lose out on their investment in the sign.

The amortization period is based on how much the company paid for the sign and typically can be from five to seven years although it could be shorter. The City of Porterville could also have to pay at least partially for the lost advertising time a company paid for when deciding how long the sign can stay.

City staff is asking direction from the council to set a “reasonable” amortization period for how long “non-conforming” billboard signs that are allowed can stay. City staff reported “this would effectively set a deadline and end the uses for the 'grandfathered' billboards.”

When it comes to the restriction of billboards, city staff reported: “The City is severely restricted from enacting content-based regulations, pursuant to the First Amendment. For example, content-based restrictions on tobacco advertising have been invalidated under the First Amendment, even when challenged due to its close proximity to a school.

A sign ordinance that creates exemptions for certain types of noncommercial speech and regulates each type differently is generally considered content based and therefore is subject to strict scrutiny.”

When it comes to sign restrictions the staff report added a “restriction on commercial speech must concern lawful activity and must not be misleading, must seek to implement a substantial government interest, must directly advance that interest and must reach no further than necessary to accomplish its objective.”

Therefore, the staff reported went on to say “A content-neutral ordinance banning all off-site billboards is not subject to strict scrutiny and does not violate the First Amendment or the free speech clause of the California Constitution.”

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