Tacoma Urbanist

Mar. 31, 2011 at 12:01am

Former Pierce County Prosecutor Ladenburg: Billboard Proposal is a "Bad Settlement" and Should Be Rejected

One of Tacoma's Most Prominent Attorneys Weighs in Against Electronic Billboards

John W. Ladenburg Sr. has been an attorney for 36 years.  Before working for the government, he worked in private practice.  He is the former Pierce County Prosecutor.  Ladenburg served on the Tacoma City Council as well as the Pierce County Executive.  Ladenburgs experience in government and law on the city and county level is perhaps the most extensive in Pierce County.

Here is Ladenburgs comment to the Planning Commission opposing the electronic billboard proposal (page 185):

"Please oppose the video billboard proposal, it would be a terrible blight on Tacoma.  This is a bad settlement and you should reject it and continue to fight to clean up Tacoma."

John Ladenburg
Ladenburg law, P.L.L.C.
1019 Pacific Avenue, Suite 1116
Tacoma, WA 98402
Telephone: 253 272 5226
FAX 253 295 2326

It is imperative that the Tacoma City Council realize how detrimental electronic billboards would be to Tacomas quality of life and cease the effort to force them into Tacoma and begin defending the 1997 billboard ordinance which was extensively vetted and is most likely legal.

Given the near complete opposition to this proposal from every corner in Tacoma, hundreds of cities fighting billboards nationwide, it is inconceivable that the council would attempt force these city wide 24/7 commercial producing blight machines down onto generations of unwilling Tacoma residents.

comments [11]  |  posted under Tacoma


by Erik on 3/31/2011 @ 12:43am
More court cases posted on Central Neighborhood Web Site re: legality of regulating billboards:


Rhod-A-Zalea v. Snohomish County (WA Supreme Court, 1998), "Local governments, of course, can terminate nonconforming uses but they are constitutionally required to provide a reasonable amortization period."

University Place v. McGuire (WA Supreme Court, 2001), "Nonconforming uses are not favored, and may be extinguished, either after a period of nonuse or a reasonable amortization period allowing the owner to recoup on investment. [footnote 3: This case does not involve an amortization schedule requiring nonconforming use property owners to end their use in a reasonable period of time. Such a schedule has been approved in Washington State. See Rhod-A-Zalea, 136 Wash.2d at 7, 959 P.2d 1024; accord Teuscher v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals, 154 Conn. 650, 228 A.2d 518, 522-23 (1967).]"

Horan v. Federal Way (WA Court of Appeals, 2002), "The parties have not adequately briefed whether amortization is sufficient compensation, and we express no opinion on the issue."

Court rulings upholding amortization periods for nonconforming uses, such as billboards: see the 36 court rulings listed on page 12 of Professor Floyd's article, "The Takings Issue in Billboard Control."

League of Neighborhood Residential Advocates v. Los Angeles (9th Circuit, Fed. Ct. of Appeals, 2007), invalidating the City's litigation settlement agreement that granted the litigant a variance from the City's prior zoning laws.

Chung v. Sarasota County (Florida Ct. of Appeals, 1996), ruling as follows:

"We conclude that the County's settlement agreement here presents a case of improper contract zoning. Although the County Commission approved the settlement at its regular meetings, it bypassed the more stringent notice and hearing requirements for a rezoning. When it entered into the settlement agreement that obligated it to rezone Chung's property, the County contracted away the exercise of its police power, which constituted an ultra vires act.
"Chung argues that the County must still follow the formal requirements to enact the zoning amendments and that this process will provide the necessary due process opportunities for notice and a hearing. We reject this argument because the hearings that follow would be a pro forma exercise since the County has already obligated itself to a decision."

Ackerley Comm. v. Seattle (9th Circuit, Fed. Ct. of Appeals, 1997). Seattle in 1977 had banned new billboards and regulated the relocation of existing ones. The court in 1997 upheld the constitutionality of Seattle's 1993 ordinance that further regulated the spacing, dispersion, height, size, location and relocation of billboards, leading to a gradual net reduction in the number of billboards in the city.

Outdoor Systems v. Mesa (9th Circuit, Fed. Ct. of Appeals, 1993). Court upheld constitutionality of 1986 ordinance that banned new offsite signs, including all billboards, and required removal of nonconforming signs on parcel before owner could get a building permit.

Clear Channel Outdoor v. Los Angeles (9th Circuit, Fed. Ct. of Appeals, 2003). Ordinance imposed inspection fees on "Off-Site Signs" defined as "a sign which displays any message directing attention to a business, product, service, profession, commodity, activity, event, person, institution or any other commercial message, which is generally conducted, sold, manufactured, produced, offered or occurs elsewhere than on the premises where such sign is located." [This definition is comparable to Tacoma's definition of "billboard sign" that Clear Channel challenges as content-based regulation.] The court rejected Clear Channel's constitutional challenge. saying, "The Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit, and many other courts have held that the on-site/off-site distinction is not an impermissible content-based regulation."

Metro Lights v. Los Angeles (9th Circuit, Fed. Ct. of Appeals, 2009). The Court again upheld LA's sign code that banned, with limited exceptions, off-site signs, meaning a sign on private property advertising commercial services or wares purveyed elsewhere than on the premises where the sign is located. [Again, LA's definition of "Off-Site Sign" is comparable to Tacoma's definition of "billboard sign."]

Clear Channel Outdoor v. New York City (2nd Circuit, Fed. Ct. of Appeals, 2010). The Court upheld constitutionality of NYC regulations governing locations of, and requiring documentation concerning, "advertising signs" defined as "a sign that directs attention to a business, profession, commodity, service, or entertainment that is conducted, sold, or offered elsewhere than upon the premises where the sign is located." [This definition is comparable to Tacoma's definition of "billboard sign" that Clear Channel challenges as content-based regulation.]


by Erik on 3/31/2011 @ 12:45am
More information on Ladenburg from his web site:


John W. Ladenburg, Sr.
Of Counsel

The third of 16 children, John Ladenburg was born in Leavenworth, WA and graduated from Stadium High School in Tacoma. He received both his undergraduate and law degrees from Gonzaga University. John married his wife, Connie, 39 years ago. They have five grown children and eight grandchildren.

Prior to elected office, John spent a decade managing his own law firm, representing crime victims and small business clients. He was also involved in several high-profile cases ranging from the federal Salmon-scam to the Pierce County Racketeering trials. John represented tribal members in Washington and Oregon attempting to recover their treaty fishing rights, becoming a well known trial lawyer.

John entered public service as a Tacoma City Council member. Right away he became a leader in protecting the environment and in establishing clean drinking water standards. John led the fight to force the Federal EPA to clean up polluted water wells owned by Tacoma's water utility. He helped negotiate a settlement with EPA which cleaned the water supply without new taxes. He helped bring the first secondary treatment plant to Tacoma's sewer utility and helped reach an agreement that provided over $60 million to build the plant. He lead the fight against W.P.P.S.S. nuclear plant cost overruns and forced Tacoma to withdraw from the W.P.P.S.S. power fiasco.

John was selected by the Council to be lead negotiator in the historic Puyallup Indian Land Claims settlement. After five years of negotiations wherein John chaired the non-Indian strategy committee, a landmark settlement of over $160 million dollars was reached. That settlement was approved by Congress and signed by President Bush. That settlement helped the Port of Tacoma expand and eventually pass Seattle in size and jobs.

John�s expert skills as a negotiator lead to him being selected to be President of the Puget Sound Economic Development Board and President of the Puget Sound Regional Council. While there, John helped create the Prosperity Partnership, a partnership of the public and private sectors that would work to make a new Puget Sound Economic plan. Over 250 organizations have signed on as a partner to help develop and implement the Prosperity Partnership's regional economic strategy. John is one of eight co-chairs of the group. John has lectured on economic development as far away as Stockholm.

After being encouraged to run by members of law enforcement, John was elected Prosecuting Attorney in 1986, defeating an incumbent Prosecutor. Throughout his time in office, John received national recognition for innovative and positive changes. As the Legislative Chair of the State Prosecutor's Association, he was instrumental in writing new laws against drug dealers and gang violence.

After a brutal crime in Pierce County, John created the nation's first "Sex Predator Notification Law", later approved by the U.S. Supreme Court. He also was a major participant in the re-writing of Washington's sex predator laws, receiving special recognition from the Tennis Shoe Brigade. Later, John's office wrote the nation's first sex predator Civil Commitment law. After John helped support the law's passage, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it.

John was one of the founding members of Safe Streets of Pierce County, a nationally recognized neighborhood watch program. He served 10 years on the Board of Directors. Recognizing the danger of Meth addiction, John organized the first "Meth Summit" in the State to bring the issue to the forefront of law enforcement. He then helped organize the first "Drug Court" in the State, in an effort to treat the addiction as a disease.

In his second term as Pierce County Executive, John took the lead to improve the environment. Working with other counties and jurisdictions, John is helping to bring 21st Century transportation to the Puget Sound area, increase salmon populations by restoring habitat, improve economic development to create jobs, and clean up environmental pollution. His efforts to end illegal dumping, protect natural areas and create new parks and trails have been honored with national and local awards.

When he became Executive, John joined the Sound Transit Board right at the time the agency was forced to announce it was far over budget and behind schedule. John wasted no time turning the troubled agency around. Although it was tradition for members to serve only two years as Chair of the Board, John was asked by fellow members to serve an unprecedented four straight years, stepping down in January 2008. When John took over as Chair, the Link Light Rail line to the airport was less than 10% complete. Today it is more than 95% complete and on time and on budget.

John�s combination of skills as a trial lawyer, negotiator, agency head, economic development executive and his far-reaching contacts in the government and business community make him invaluable in complex negotiations and settlements.


by tacoma1 on 3/31/2011 @ 1:32am
I'm glad to see John Ladenburg speak out on this subject. Hopefully, his opinion will have some influence with the city council.

by NineInchNachos on 3/31/2011 @ 8:01am
I'd like to see John W. Ladenburg, Sr. and Doug Schafer combine Law forces and go voltron on the Clear Channel Outdoor

by Erik on 3/31/2011 @ 11:16am
@RR: Yes. Ladenburg and Schafer have 68 years of combined legal and governmental experience!

Now the News Tribune has linked to this post:


by Erik on 5/17/2011 @ 1:06pm
New message from John Ladenburg on his advice to the Tacoma City Council 5/17/2011 9:19 a.m.:

John W. Ladenburg Sr. I have spoken with each Council member and told them to tell their lawyers to fight this all the way, no settlement. I would also suggest that the City Council seriously increase the B&O tax on companies like this that think they can litigate us into submission. The extra B&O tax can fund the city's side of the lawsuits.


by Erik on 6/29/2011 @ 11:13pm
Now Tacoma has a Washington State Supreme Court candidate who has weighed in against the detrimental digital billboard "settlement proposal."

John Ladenburg will run for state high court, not attorney general

Former Pierce County Executive and Prosecutor John Ladenburg announced Wednesday he will forgo a third run for state attorney general and instead enter next years race for the state Supreme Court.


by tacoma1 on 6/30/2011 @ 8:37am
I hope he does well. Tacoma needs to support our own towards higher office. It can only benefit us in the long run by getting as many T-Towners in higher office.

by Jesse on 6/30/2011 @ 11:37am
How did I miss the post at 5-17-11 at 1:06??? Raising B and O taxes on these guys is an awesome idea. Raise them to the point that billboards are no longer profitable in Tacoma. If they default on B and O taxes, who goes after them? The IRS???

by NineInchNachos on 6/30/2011 @ 11:47am

by Erik on 6/30/2011 @ 12:44pm
Kudos to Ladenburg for standing up against a detrimental threat to Tacoma!

Fording in 38 digital billboard in Tacoma would be an unconscionable act giving away Tacoma's public visual realm.