The Mobile Billboards of San Francisco – Are They Illegal or Not?

Work with me here – mobile billboards, you know, those trucks that are basically giant rectangular ads, are banned in San Francisco under Section 680 of the Police Code and yet you can see them all over town.

What gives?

Click to expand:

Maybe San Francisco has given up enforcing this regulation? Let’s see what the New York Times had to say back ten years ago:

“Similar disputes are occurring in Boston and in San Francisco, which suspended enforcement of its ban on mobile billboards in June because of a lawsuit, said Nathan Ballard, a deputy city attorney there. But San Francisco recently revised its law to explain the rationale behind it (to cut traffic congestion, truck emissions and assaults on citizens’ aesthetic sensibilities). Unless the billboard company succeeds in persuading a judge to issue a preliminary injunction by Dec. 1, he said, San Francisco will resume enforcing its billboard ban.”

(Nate Ballard was a San Francisco deputy city attorney? Did not know that.) Anywho, it could be that constitutional concerns prevent San Francisco from doing anything about mobile billboards.

Oh well.

That’s just my guess – maybe you can find a loophole here. Enjoy:

SEC. 680. ADVERTISING VEHICLES PROHIBITED ON CITY STREETS.

(a) Findings and Purpose. The inherent primary purpose of commercial advertising vehicles is to display commercial advertising on public streets. By their nature, commercial advertising vehicles are intended to distract, and aim to capture and hold the attention of, members of the public on or adjoining public streets, including drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and others. Moreover, such vehicles display commercial advertising from a mobile platform, including while the vehicle is moving within the flow of traffic, potentially stopping, starting, or turning abruptly, accentuating the inherent tendency of such advertising to seize attention and to distract. Additionally, the use of motor vehicles to display commercial advertising creates exhaust emissions. For these reasons, the Board of Supervisors finds that commercial advertising vehicles create aesthetic blight and visual clutter and create potential and actual traffic and health and safety hazards. The purposes of this section are (1) to promote the public health, safety and welfare of motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, and others using the City’s public streets and roadways and adjoining areas, by eliminating the aesthetic blight and visual clutter and traffic and safety hazards caused by the operation of commercial advertising vehicles on the City’s streets; (2) to reduce congestion on the City’s streets; (3) to reduce exhaust emissions, by eliminating as an emissions source a type of commercial advertising display whose use may require continuous or extensive operation of motor vehicle engines; (4) to protect public investment in and the character and dignity of the City’s streets; and (5) to aid in the attraction of tourists and other visitors who are so important to the economy of the City. This section is not intended to regulate any non-commercial speech, including non-commercial advertising or signage.

(b) Prohibition. No person may operate any commercial advertising vehicle in or on any public street in the City and County of San Francisco.

(c) Definitions. As used in this Section, the following terms shall have the following meanings:

(1) “City” means the City and County of San Francisco.

(2) “Commercial advertising vehicle” means a motor vehicle that is carrying, towing, or otherwise displaying any commercial advertising sign, unless the vehicle is used primarily to transport passengers or goods.

(3) “Commercial advertising sign” means a banner, placard, poster, card, picture, sign or display that does no more than propose a commercial transaction.

(d) Enforcement.

(1) The Police Department shall issue a written notice of violation concerning, and requiring the immediate correction of, any violation of this Section to the driver of any commercial advertising vehicle that is being driven or used in violation of this Section, as well as to the owner or other person responsible for the vehicle, if the identity of that owner or other person is known or readily ascertainable. If issued to the driver of a commercial advertising vehicle, the notice shall require the driver to inform the owner or other person responsible for the operation of the commercial advertising vehicle of the notice and of the violation to which it relates. Notice to the driver of a commercial advertising vehicle under this subsection shall be deemed notice to the owner or other person responsible for the operation of the vehicle.

(2) The City Attorney is authorized to enforce this Section by appropriate civil action. No such action shall be commenced against any person unless and until the Police Department has issued a notice of violation requiring correction to that person, as specified above, and that person has failed to comply with this Section and with that notice. In any civil action brought to enforce this Section, the City Attorney may pursue the remedies set forth in this Section for the violation of this Section that is subject of the notice, as well as for any subsequent violations of this Section that have occurred within one year after the issuance of the notice without regard to whether the Police Department issued subsequent notices concerning those subsequent violations.

(3) Violation of this Section shall constitute grounds for injunctive relief. In addition, any person who violates or refuses to comply with the provisions of this Section shall be liable for a civil penalty which shall be assessed and recovered in a civil action brought in the name of the People of the City and County of San Francisco in any court of competent jurisdiction. Each separate display of commercial advertising prohibited by this Section, and each day that a violation of this Section is committed or permitted to continue, shall constitute a separate violation. The amount of such civil penalty shall be $250 for the first violation, $350 for the second violation, and $500 for each subsequent violation of this Section. Any penalty assessed and recovered in an action brought pursuant to this paragraph shall be paid to the Treasurer of the City and County of San Francisco. The person against whom a penalty is assessed, or against whom an injunction is obtained, also shall be liable for the costs and attorney’s fees incurred by the City and County of San Francisco in bringing any civil action to enforce the provisions of this Section.

(4) Violation of this Section shall not constitute a criminal offense.

(5) In any action brought to enforce this Section, the City Attorney may also seek any remedies available under state or federal law.

(Added by Ord. 70-92, App. 3/4/92; amended by Ord. 234-00, File No. 001261, App. 10/13/00)

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3 Responses to “The Mobile Billboards of San Francisco – Are They Illegal or Not?”

  1. Burgos says:

    Money talks – BS walks.
    Ask how so many companies park with seeming impunity to blocking traffic; UPS and the breweries come to mind.
    The latest frustrating fad is Comcast trucks stopping, placing orange cones around the truck and walking away, even when they can pull over.

  2. SlideSF says:

    @Burgos- Yes! Even to the extent that they will put up a cone right in front of your driveway! Needless to say, that cone ended up somewhere further down the block ;-)

    @OP- If it’s not illegal, it certainly should be. It’s apparently not bad enough that billboards have to consume a lot of both visual space as well as electrical energy (a galling sidenote being that after the Loma Prieta earthquake, the Salem sign atop the building @ Market/Laguna had full illumination 24 hours later, while I, a block away on Guerrero, remained without power for five days. But I digress), but it now seems necessary to burn up gasoline and block traffic as well. It is really disgraceful that any company find it so necessary to so flagrantly waste resources touting their undoubtedly unwholesome and insipid wares. They must really hold San Franciscans in contempt, thinking that we would allow such an abuse to continue…

    …oh, yeah. Right.

  3. SF JD Candidate says:

    The CA Court of Appeal recently had a case (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness v. City of West Hollywood) dealing with a very similar ordinance. The advertisers were unsuccessful at challenging the law.
    Mobile billboards cause traffic, pollute, and are just more distractions in the City where it is too hard to drive already.
    Lets get rid of em!