Grocer, advertising groups challenge L.A.’s ban on outdoor liquor signs

Friday, September 3, 1999

A coalition of grocer associations, tavern owners, beer and wine makers and advertising groups has recently filed a federal lawsuit, challenging the constitutionality of a Los Angeles ordinance that would effectively ban most outdoor liquor advertising in the city.

On Sept. 17, 1998, Mayor Richard Riordan signed the ordinance, which takes effect on Oct. 23, 1999.

The ordinance provides that “no person shall place, permit, or maintain on any on-site or off-site sign, a poster, placard, device, graphic display, or any other form of advertising that advertises alcoholic beverages in publicly visible locations within 1,000 feet of any residential zone, residential use, school, religious institution, entertainment park, youth center, or public park or playground.”

The lawsuit, filed on Aug. 23, alleges that the ordinance unconstitutionally restricts free-speech rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the free-speech provision of the California Constitution.

According to the plaintiffs, the law will adversely affect retailers who use signs in their stores as an “essential advertising tool.”

The city's stated purpose for the ordinance is to reduce minors' consumption of alcohol.

According to the plaintiffs in Korean-American Grocers Association v. City of Los Angeles, the City Council could have taken other measures to reduce minors' consumption of alcohol without infringing on First Amendment rights, including:

  • Passing stricter laws against the sale of alcohol to minors.
  • Increasing enforcement of existing laws.
  • Promoting educational efforts in schools and the community at large about the risks of underage drinking.

“The widespread sweep of the Ordinance is completely out of proportion to the City's asserted goal,” the lawsuit alleges.

Al Wickers, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, said that no court hearing had been set and that the city had not yet responded to the lawsuit.

The Los Angeles city attorney could not be reached for comment.