S.F. aerial ad ban stalls amid questions over legality, industry pushback 

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Airplanes and blimps towing or displaying ads can continue flying in San Francisco skies as industry pushback and legal questions dog a proposed ban on aerial advertising.

The proposal also has stirred debate over free speech rights.

The aerial ad industry has taken notice. Van Wagner Communications — which has a large portion of the aerial ad market in The City, along with operations in major cities such as New York, Miami and Los Angeles — has hired local lobbyist firm BergDavis Public Affairs to represent its interests.

Board of Supervisors President David Chiu said he was approached by industry officials about a compromise, such as muffling plane noise better.

Legal challenges remain unanswered. While a U.S. Supreme Court decision backed a similar ban in Honolulu, Supervisor Scott Wiener said the Federal Aviation Administration had changed its rules since that 2006 decision.

"I know that this area of the law is a bit of a mess," Wiener said. "It's unclear if that case law is applicable or not."

Local resident Steven Krolick called the air ads "corporate sky graffiti."

"If we can't have clear skies to look at the beauty of The City and the Golden Gate Bridge without the obstruction, the visual pollution of all these aircraft, we are not a beautiful city," he said.

But another resident, David Elliott Lewis, said the ban was "against free speech."

"It does give the opportunity for opposing or dissident groups to get their message out," Lewis said. "Not everybody follows Twitter or Facebook."

The proposal from supervisors Jane Kim and John Avalos was triggered by a temporary aerial ad ban over the America's Cup race course, which the board approved last week as part of the event's host agreement.

On Monday, the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee postponed a vote on the citywide ban proposal. With the board going on summer recess starting next week, the earliest a vote could take place is September.

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