November 6, 2012, by
Claudia J. Gorham
In a recent inverse condemnation action, the owner of a “wallscape”[a billboard sign on the side of a building], West Washington Properties, LLC, argued that the California Department of Transportation (“Caltrans”) was barred from enforcing the Outdoor Advertising Act (Business and Professions Code section 5200, and following) (“the Act”), because it had not issued a notice of violation of the Act in the 20 years the sign had been on display on the building. The lower court rejected these arguments and the court of appeal affirmed. (See, West Washington Properties, LLC v. California DOT (Oct. 10, 2012) Cal.App.4th, No. B233295)
The wallscape had been on display since 1984 without a permit. West Washington Properties purchased the building in 1999 in part based upon the over $12,000,000 the sign was valued to be worth over the years of future advertising. In 2006, a Caltrans field inspector took note of the sign and determined it violated the Act because it required, but did not have, a permit and it was too large given its proximity to the interstate. West Washington argued that Caltrans was barred from issuing the violation or requiring a permit because it had been over five years since the sign was erected and therefore the sign was presumed to be legal and on the grounds of equitable estoppel [reliance on lack of permit].