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Who needs trees when CBS billboards are in Manteca park?

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POSTED June 30, 2010 2:41 a.m.
A small army of civic-minded volunteers from Crossroads Community Church did what they embraced as the Lord’s work last October and helped the financially strapped city plant 250 trees along the Moffat Boulevard leg of the Tidewater Bikeway.

They did so in the spirit of building a better community.

The Moffat of the Tidewater is also home to six billboards that CBS corporate lawyers are helping their multi-billion dollar employer hold on to for basically lose change by contorting the intent of Congress.

Congress - concerned apparently about the right of corporations to advertise where they wish - passed a law that made it virtually impossible for local government to force the removal of existing billboards.

It was a nice way to protect free enterprise and property rights. The only problem is the billboards in question are on property owned by the city.

The city respected the contract that that was inked with National Advertising Company in 1991 when Union Pacific approved a deal when the railroad still owned the property. Manteca acquired the land in 1997 from the railroad to create the 34-acre linear Tidewater Bike Path Park.

On April 16, 2007, the City Council reaffirmed an earlier decision to terminate the lease as allowed under provisions of the original contract.

The City Council served notice on May 1, 2007 to CBS Outdoor — a wholly owned subsidiary of CBS that had acquired the billboards and is the nation’s largest owner of billboards — that it wanted the three two-sided billboards on city property removed.

The legal agreement between the city and the nation’s largest owner of billboards required the billboards to either be removed within 30 days of receiving notice from the city or — if not removed by CBS — the city could do so and the sign company would have to reimburse the city for the costs of removal as long as it occurred within one year after the 30-day period expired.

That means the city had until June 1, 2007 to remove the billboards that are in the Tidewater Bikeway municipal park and still get CBS to reimburse the costs. It’s been three years since the deadline passed yet the billboards still stand.

This is where Congress enters the act. The billboard companies got the federal government to put laws in place that CBS apparently believes supersedes a legally binding contract and gives them carte blanche to ignore local government that also happens to own the land that is leased to CBS.

There’s only one little problem with the bullying by CBS. This isn’t the case of a city trying to force a private property owner to end their contract with CBS. The city isn’t trying to regulate the billboards in this case. They own the land they stand on.

Under CBS’ logic they would be able to force anyone with a billboard on their land to keep it there forever despite their wishes or the fact contracts may have lapsed.

What is really going on here is CBS is using its considerable legal resources to run roughshod over a community of 69,000 residents by forcing an expired contract to remain in effect for as long as they want to secure enough advertising revenue a year that would probably cover the mega-corp legal department’s paper clip expenditures.

It is plain wrong, morally and otherwise. But right or wrong doesn’t matter when you’ve got a small army of lawyers on your side null and voiding a legally binding contact on land that is owned by the people of Manteca and not CBS with a lease that pays Manteca only $2,070 a year for six billboards.

There is a solution to this donnybrook. It would be a violation of the taking clause of the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution if CBS believes they can keep the price in place forever on what they pay Manteca for the land under a contract that was inked decades ago and has essentially expired when the city gave notice.

The city should acknowledge that they can’t force CBS to take the billboards off municipal property. Instead, they should send them an updated contract indicating CBS now needs to pay $20,000 a year per two-sided billboard.

CBS richly deserves a black-eye for what they are doing to Manteca.

But then again, the only measureable shade in the blistering 100-degree heat as of late along the Moffat leg of the Tidewater has been the shadows cast by the billboards hawking the McDonald’s dollar menu.
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