Billboard giant wins lawsuit against San Jose
An Outfront Media billboard along El Camino Real in Santa Clara on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022. Photo by Joseph Geha.

A billboard conglomerate alleged San Jose violated its own rules with an advertising contract—and a judge agreed.

Outfront Media won its lawsuit against the city last month after contending that San Jose did not follow proper procedure and bid out the construction of two digital billboards south of Highway 101 on San Jose Mineta International Airport property.

Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Thomas E. Kuhnle ordered San Jose to rescind the February 2020 agreement with Clear Channel as of Dec. 20, 2023 and comply within 150 days, according to the order. The city is also required to pay Outfront Media’s legal fees.

The City of San Jose failed to perform a ministerial duty before granting Clear Channel Outdoor, Inc. the right to install two digital billboards at the Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport,” according to court documents.

Dan Connolly, former chair of the San Jose Airport Commission, said the commission objected to the deal twice, but was ignored by city officials. Connolly said he predicted this would happen.

“It was clear to us back then that the city was really stretching their contract with Clear Channel to put a square peg into a round hole but we were ignored on the issue,” he told San José Spotlight.

In the lawsuit filed in 2022, Outfront Media claimed San Jose should have held a competitive bidding process according to its own billboard policy. Instead, the officials ironed out the details of an agreement with Clear Channel in a February 2022 San Jose City Council meeting.

Outfront Media also said the longstanding airport advertising contract the city held with Clear Channel was not enough to justify giving the two billboards to Clear Channel because the agreement prohibits erecting billboards.

Outfront Media declined to comment and Clear Channel could not be reached for comment. San Jose City Attorney Nora Frimann also declined to comment, saying that the city does not comment on pending litigation.

The judgment follows a lengthy saga over allowing new billboards on public land.

In 2018, city officials ended a ban from 1985 on such advertisements. After making the agreement with Clear Channel, the city council then amended its rules on future billboards and mandated that any advertisers putting up new billboards had to take down six old ones in December 2022.

Leslie Levitt, co-chair of No Digital Billboards in San Jose, said the group has fought against the two digital billboards throughout the process, citing concerns about light pollution and energy costs. He said the lawsuit has broader implications beyond billboards because it implicates the city in violating its own rules.

“This is a classic public interest versus special interest situation,” Levitt told San José Spotlight.

It is unclear if San Jose will try again to erect the billboards south of Highway 101 again. But Levitt said the city shouldn’t have spent more than a year fighting the lawsuit, but rather acquiesced.

“This was entirely avoidable,” he said.

Contact Annalise Freimarck at [email protected] or follow @annalise_ellen on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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