The Difference Between On-Site and Off-Site Commercial Signs

In Metromedia, Inc. v. City of San Diego, 453 U.S. 490, 101 S. Ct. 2882, 69 L. Ed. 2d 800 (1981), a landmark United States Supreme Court decision on the regulation of outdoor advertising, a plurality of the Court found it permissible to distinguish between on-site and off-site commercial signs, explaining: Whether onsite advertising is permitted or not, the prohibition of offsite advertising is directly related to the stated objectives of traffic safety and esthetics. This is not altered by the fact that the ordinance is underinclusive because it permits onsite advertising .... the city may believe that offsite advertising, with its periodically changing content, presents a more acute problem than does onsite advertising .... San Diego has obviously chosen to value one kind of commercial speech--onsite advertising--more than another kind of commercial speech--offsite advertising. The ordinance reflects a decision by the city that the former interest, but not the latter, is stronger than the city's interests in traffic safety and esthetics .... As we see it, the city could reasonably conclude that a commercial enterprise--as well as the interested public--has a stronger interest in identifying its place of business and advertising the products or services available there than it has in using or leasing its available space for the purpose of advertising commercial enterprises located elsewhere. Metromedia, 453 U.S. at 511-12.