Fight against illegal billboards heating up

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RENO, Nev, (KOLO) -- Neighbors who live along I-80 in northwest Reno are furious. Billboards they never knew were coming are now threatening their view. The signs were put up without a permit, not to advertise something, but to launch a legal battle against the City of Reno.

For residents, the change happened overnight.

“The next morning we woke up and we saw this from our living room window,” said Patricia Puchert, who lives near the beginning stages of the billboard that popped up within yards of her home in February.

“They just came in and did this to us without any notice,” said Puchert.

Since Mid-December, a renegade media company has been constructing non-permitted billboards in northwest Reno. There is one at the Mountain View Cemetery, another at the Odd Fellow’s Lodge, and a partially completed sign up the street.

“They have done this as an illegal act and they should be fined for this,” said Puchert.

They were fined. The City of Reno issued a citation in December and was immediately slapped with a lawsuit.

“I think that there are certain people who want to challenge codes and try to claim damages and attorney’s fees based on what they claim is a constitutional violation of their rights,” said Karl Hall, Reno City Attorney.

Logic would indicate the sign company had this plan from the beginning. The company’s name is “Strict Scrutiny Media.” In legalese, Strict Scrutiny is a standard of judicial review used to determine if government policies are constitutional

“Certainly it appears the lawsuit was filed simply to attack our code,” said Hall, referring to the Reno sign code that requires people who erect billboards to meet certain requirements.

Hall says the lawyers behind Strict Scrutiny Media argue those same requirements for signs are not placed on hospitals and railroads. In their lawsuit, the Strict Scrutiny alleges a violation of the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

“I think this is going to go on for a long time and I think it is going to hurt a lot of people,” said Puchert.

Her guess that the problem will probably last a while is likely accurate. The two men behind the lawsuit are Alan and Jeff Herson. They have fought Reno’s and other city’s sign ordinances. They have fought some of those cases all the way to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.