Ruben Fernandez is the only one of his kind in District 7, the Outdoor Advertising Inspector responsible for enforcing the California Outdoor Advertising Act and Business and Professions section codes. He ensures that every billboard visible from Caltrans highway has a state permit (or a good reason why not).
His is one of those positions that reports directly to Headquarters but is under Traffic Operations. He has counterparts in Districts 8, 11 and 12, which comprise the South Region; the North Region has its own. Several days a week, Fernandez is out on the state highway system with his Distance Measuring Instrument (DMI), checking that every billboard he sees is far enough away from the state right of way and on his list of permits.
To receive a Caltrans permit, billboard owners must conform to several requirements, including: a $300 application fee; a permit from the city where the billboard is located; an assessor’s parcel map; the property owner’s consent; verification that the billboard is not encroaching on another billboard’s space (they must be 500 feet apart); and, a location 660 feet or more from the state right of way line.
In addition to checking for permits, Fernandez also looks for billboards that have been placed in landscaped areas, another no-no. When he finds a guilty billboard, he issues a Notice of Violation to the owner, who then has 30 days to appeal.
“Typically, they won’t even file the appeal until the 30 days are almost up,” Fernandez said. After that, it is handled by the Caltrans Legal Division and ultimately decided by the Office of Administrative Hearings. “If the ruling is in our favor, they have to remove the billboard,” he added. “In several cases, companies have gone to the State Supreme Court.” Meanwhile, the billboard stays up and collects revenue.
Generally, a permit is good for five years, he said, unless it’s in a redevelopment area. Then it’s permitted for 10 years. Lately, Fernandez said, he is focusing more on developing relationships with the city in which a billboard is located because it helps in case there are any issues that develop.
Fernandez has an assigned vehicle. Depending on the location of field survey, he may stay overnight to finish the surveyed route. The days in the office will vary according to what was performed in the field. He tries to get in two or three days a week to attend to necessary paperwork for what was performed in the field. “It’s challenging at times,” he said, “but I enjoy the challenge.”