Cafe Erotica of Florida v. St. Johns County ( 2004 )


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  •                                                                      [PUBLISH]
    
                    IN THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
    
                             FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT              FILED
                                                          U.S. COURT OF APPEALS
                               ________________________     ELEVENTH CIRCUIT
                                                                February 23, 2004
                                     No. 02-16718            THOMAS K. KAHN
                                                                    CLERK
                               ________________________
    
                         D. C. Docket No. 98-00597 CV-J-21-HTS
    
    
    CAFÉ EROTICA OF FLORIDA, INC.,
    a Florida Corporation,
    CAFÉ EROTICA / WE DARE TO BARE /
    ADULT TOYS / GREAT FOOD / EXIT 94,
    INC., a Florida Corporation,
                                                                          Plaintiffs-
                                                                 Counter-Defendant-
                                                                         Appellees.
    
                                            versus
    
    ST. JOHNS COUNTY,
    a political subdivision of the State of Florida
                                                                        Defendant-
                                                                  Counter-Claimant-
                                                                         Appellant.
    
                              ________________________
    
                                     No. 03-11385
                               ________________________
    
                        D.C. Docket No. 01-00342 CV-3-J-21-HTS
    CAFE EROTICA/WE DARE TO BARE
    /ADULT TOYS/GREAT FOOD/EXIT 94,
    INC., a Florida Corporation,
    
                                                                               Plaintiff-
                                                                               Appellee,
    
             versus
    
    ST. JOHNS COUNTY, a
    political subdivision
    of the State of Florida,
    
                                                                           Defendant-
                                                                           Appellant.
    
                               ________________________
    
                      Appeals from the United States District Court
                           for the Middle District of Florida
                            _________________________
    
                                  (February 23, 2004)
    
    Before DUBINA, WILSON and KRAVITCH, Circuit Judges.
    
    WILSON, Circuit Judge:
    
    I.   BACKGROUND
    
          This appeal consolidates two cases involving facial and as-applied
    
    challenges to the St. Johns County, Florida, sign ordinance (“Ordinance” or
    
    “Ordinance 99-51"), codified as Article VII of the St. Johns County Land
    
    Development Code (“LDC”). Each case presents identical legal issues. We
    
                                            2
    review the grant of summary judgment in favor of appellees, Café Erotica of
    
    Florida, Inc. (“Café” or “Café Erotica”), and Café Erotica / We Dare to Bare /
    
    Adult Toys / Great Food / Exit 94, Inc. (“We Dare to Bare”).
    
           The first case involves Café Erotica, an adult entertainment establishment in
    
    St. Johns County (“County”), Florida. Café has advertised its business on
    
    billboards located along Interstate 95. County officials issued several citations to
    
    Café for constructing signs on its business premises, advertising on the side of a
    
    truck, and erecting “political message” banners1 without following the County’s
    
    required permitting procedures. On June 19, 1998, Café challenged the then-
    
    current St. Johns County sign ordinance, Ordinance 90-9. The district court issued
    
    a preliminary injunction against its enforcement. The County subsequently passed
    
    four new versions of its sign ordinance, finally enacting Ordinance 99-51.
    
           In the other case, We Dare to Bare brought a facial challenge against
    
    Ordinance 99-51, and also alleged that the County applied Ordinance 99-51
    
    against it in an unconstitutional manner with respect to a billboard it erected along
    
    Interstate 95. We Dare to Bare argued that the County took an impermissibly long
    
    
    
           1
             One banner read, “Karen Bruner is An Incompetent County Official.” Karen Bruner is
    the public official who issued citations to Café. Another read, “James Acosta is a fat ass Barney
    Fife. He has cost the county thousands of $ in lost lawsuits for using selective [e]nforcements.”
    Mr. Acosta is the Supervisor of Code Enforcement for St. Johns County.
    
                                                    3
    time to render its licensing decision and imposed additional requirements upon it
    
    not imposed on similarly situated businesses.2
    
           Both district courts permanently enjoined the County from enforcing
    
    Ordinance 99-51 and granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs. Each district
    
    court declared Sections 7.00.01,3 7.00.08,4 and 7.03.015 of Ordinance 99-51
    
    unconstitutional, and determined that these sections could not be severed from the
    
    rest of Article VII of the LDC.6
    
           The district courts confined their analyses to Ordinance 99-51. However,
    
    after enacting Ordinance 99-51, the County amended its sign regulation, enacting
    
           2
             The billboard at issue was erected by Jerry Sullivan, incorporator and president of
    approximately thirty-five Florida corporations, including We Dare to Bare and Café Erotica. The
    billboard contains the words “Café Erotica,” “We Dare to Bare,” “Great Food,” “Adult Toys,”
    and “Exit 94, Inc..” The paint colors call the viewer’s attention to the phrases “Café Erotica” and
    “We Dare to Bare.” A small sign is affixed below the billboard facing and reads, “Fish Camp,”
    and includes a telephone number. Mr. Sullivan did not obtain a permit for the structure. Further,
    the structure was erected on property owned by neither We Dare to Bare nor Café Erotica, with
    no business activities of either corporation conducted there. The County issued a notice of
    violation on January 30, 2001. The sign has since been removed.
           3
             Section 7.00.01 sets forth the time limits in which St. Johns County must approve or
    deny a sign permit.
           4
             Section 7.00.08 describes the appeals process and sets time limits for challenging a
    permit denial.
           5
             Section 7.03.01 sets forth the requirements for “special use signs,” and specifically
    limits “political message signs” to thirty-two square feet, or six square feet if located in a
    residential district.
           6
            The district court in We Dare to Bare granted We Dare to Bare’s Summary Judgment
    Motion “for the reasons and to the extent set forth in the [Café] Court’s December 4, 2002
    Order.”
    
                                                     4
    Ordinance 01-34 on May 15, 2001. We Dare to Bare attempted to challenge
    
    Ordinance 01-34, arguing that it is substantively the same as the predecessor law
    
    and contains the same constitutional flaws. Rather than having the parties amend
    
    their pleadings, the district court ruled only on the constitutionality of Ordinance
    
    99-51, as the challenged provisions of Ordinance 99-51 were substantially the
    
    same under the new ordinance. See Coalition for the Abolition of Marijuana
    
    Prohibition v. City of Atlanta, 
    219 F.3d 1301
    , 1310 (11th Cir. 2000) (“[W]hen an
    
    ordinance is repealed by the enactment of a superseding statute, then the
    
    ‘superseding statute or regulation moots a case only to the extent that it removes
    
    challenged features of the prior law. To the extent that those features remain in
    
    place, and changes in the law have not so fundamentally altered the statutory
    
    framework as to render the original controversy a mere abstraction, the case is not
    
    moot.’”) (quoting Naturist Soc’y, Inc. v. Fillyaw, 
    958 F.2d 1515
    , 1520 (11th Cir.
    
    1992)). Thus, we consider only the constitutionality of Ordinance 99-51 in this
    
    appeal. Specifically, we consider appellees’ facial challenges to sections 7.00.01,
    
    7.00.08, and 7.03.01 of Ordinance 99-51, taking into account other provisions that
    
    may affect the constitutionality of those provisions.
    
          Appellees assert two facial challenges. First, they argue that Ordinance 99-
    
    51 is a content-based restriction on speech because certain provisions favor
    
                                              5
    commercial speech over political speech. Specifically, appellees argue that
    
    because the Ordinance limits “political message signs” to thirty-two square feet
    
    while allowing commercial billboards to be as large as 560 square feet, the County
    
    impermissibly discriminates against political speech. Second, appellees argue that
    
    the permitting requirements of Ordinance 99-51 act as an unconstitutional prior
    
    restraint because the Ordinance does not contain the required procedural
    
    protections for licensing schemes pursuant to FW/PBS, Inc. v. City of Dallas, 
    493 U.S. 215
     (1990).
    
          The County responds that Ordinance 99-51 is a constitutional content-
    
    neutral ordinance. Under the County’s reading of the Ordinance, both on-premise
    
    and off-premise signs can contain commercial and noncommercial content. Thus,
    
    according to the County, political messages can be placed on billboards. The
    
    County admits that it regulates various types of signs differently, but contends that
    
    any differences in treatment are due solely to content-neutral factors related to
    
    safety and aesthetics. The County believes that nothing in the Ordinance “allows”
    
    it to deny a permit based on a sign’s content. The County, however, admits that
    
    because the Ordinance treats different types of signs differently, the content of a
    
    sign must be “considered for determining the location and duration of a sign.”
    
    II.      APPLICABLE ORDINANCE PROVISIONS
    
                                              6
           Ordinance 99-51 requires anyone wishing to erect a sign larger than fifteen
    
    square feet in area to obtain a sign permit. See LDC § 7.00.01 & § 3.09.08.
    
    Further, the LDC requires a permit for all outdoor advertising displays.7 Café’s
    
    banner is a “sign” within the above definition, as are the billboards that Café
    
    wishes to construct. Thus, Café would have to obtain a permit before erecting
    
    these structures. The County Administrator of St. Johns County (“County
    
    Administrator”) makes all permitting decisions in accordance with the Standard
    
    Building Code.8 See LDC § 7.00.01.
    
           Appellees challenge various sections of the Ordinance setting forth the time
    
    in which the County must perform its obligations. Ordinance 99-51 states:
    
           Applications for Sign Permits shall be approved or denied, by the
           County Administrator, within fourteen (14) days of submittal of a
           fully completed application. If more information is required from the
           applicant . . ., the fourteen (14) day period shall run from receipt of
           that additional information. If the applicant certifies in writing that
           the application is complete, the fourteen (14) day period shall run
           from the date of the County’s receipt of that writing.
    
    
    
    
           7
               “Outdoor advertising display” is defined in the LDC as “any letter, figure, character . . .
    marquee sign, design, poster [etc.] which shall be so constructed, placed, attached . . . so that the
    same shall be used for the attraction of the public to any place, subject, person, firm, corporation
    . . . whatsoever, which is displayed in any manner whatsoever outdoors.” LDC § 12.01.00.
           8
             The “Standard Building Code” is the “latest edition of the technical regulations for
    Structures as promulgated by the Southern Building Code Congress [International], Inc. and
    adopted by St. Johns County.” LDC § 12.00.01.
    
                                                      7
    LDC § 7.00.01(C).9
    
           Any permitting decision may be appealed to the Board of County
    
    Commissioners within thirty days of the decision. The Board of County
    
    Commissioners has fifteen days to render a written decision. See LDC § 7.00.08.
    
    This decision may be appealed to the Circuit Court within thirty days. The
    
    Ordinance states, “[i]n any case where the message or content of the proposed
    
    Sign affected the denial of the permit, the County shall bear the cost of initiating
    
    the case with the Circuit Court and shall also bear the burden of justifying the
    
    denial.” Id. (emphasis added).
    
           Ordinance 99-51 contains a general severance provision stating, “[i]f any
    
    section, phrase, sentence, or portion of this Ordinance or the Code is for any
    
    reason held invalid or unconstitutional . . . such portion shall be deemed a
    
    separate, distinct, and independent provision, and such holding shall not affect the
    
    validity of the remaining portions thereof.” Ordinance 99-51 Recitals, ¶ 7.
    
           Ordinance 99-51 regulates different types of signs differently, including the
    
    following sign categories: (1) billboards; (2) on-premise signs; and (3) “special
    
    
    
           9
              Notably, Ordinance 01-34 amends this section of the LDC, and allows the County
    Administrator thirty days to deny or approve a fully completed sign application and twenty days
    to notify the applicant of any deficiencies. If the application is not approved or denied within the
    thirty-day period, the new Ordinance deems the sign permit to be denied.
    
                                                     8
    use signs,” which include “political message signs.”
    
                                    1. BILLBOARDS
    
          Part 7.01 regulates billboards. Billboards are limited to thirty-five feet in
    
    height, and can be as large as 378 square feet – or 560 square feet if located along
    
    the interstate. See LDC § 7.01.03(A)-(B). Billboards are defined as signs “over
    
    thirty-two (32) square feet in size that [are] used for off-premise outdoor
    
    advertising and display,” and they also include on-premise signs that exceed 300
    
    square feet. LDC § 12.01.00 (emphasis added). The Ordinance defines
    
    “advertising message” as including not only commercial messages, but also
    
    “political copy intended to directly or indirectly promote a candidate or issue.”
    
    LDC § 12.01.00.
    
          Billboards are subject to greater restrictions than on-premise signs with
    
    regard to the number of billboards and their location. Compare LDC § 7.01.01(A)
    
    (restricting new billboards to designated locations, and stating that no increase in
    
    the total number of billboards shall be permitted “unless fully compliant with this
    
    Code”) with LDC § 7.02.01(A) (limiting on-premise ground signs to four per
    
    location, but placing no limits on the number of building signs such as marquee
    
    and canopy signs).
    
          Section 7.01.01(C) concerns severability of the billboard provisions. It
    
                                              9
    states, “[i]f any of the provisions of this Code, including [provisions] pertaining to
    
    permitting new Billboards is found unconstitutional . . . all provisions pertaining
    
    to allowing and permitting new Billboards shall be deemed voided in totality and
    
    no new Billboards shall be allowed.”
    
                                 2. ON-PREMISE SIGNS
    
          Part 7.02 regulates on-premise signs. On-premise signs are generally
    
    limited to 150 square feet. See LDC § 7.02.01(B). Those within 500 feet of the
    
    interstate are allowed up to 300 square feet of advertising space. See LDC §
    
    7.02.02(B). On-premise signs include advertisements for a business, person, or
    
    service located on the sign’s premises. Off-premise signs, by contrast, contain
    
    similar advertisements for a product or business that is not located or furnished on
    
    the property where the sign is erected. See LDC § 12.01.00.
    
                           3.   POLITICAL MESSAGE SIGNS
    
          “Political message signs” are regulated under a third category of signs
    
    called “special use signs.” LDC § 7.03.00. A political message sign is defined as
    
    “[a]ny Sign containing a non-commercial opinion or endorsement message and
    
    not containing a commercial message.” LDC § 12.01.00 (emphasis added). Under
    
    this definition, the separate requirements for “political message signs” appear to
    
    govern all non-commercial signs. Political message signs are limited by §
    
                                              10
    7.03.01(L) to between six and thirty-two square feet. Commercial signs and
    
    billboards, on the other hand, can be as large as 560 square feet. See LDC §§
    
    7.01.03(A), 7.05.01(A).
    
                         III.   JURISDICTION AND STANDING
    
          Both appellees have standing to challenge Ordinance 99-51. In order to
    
    have standing, a plaintiff must prove that (1) it has sustained an injury “of a legally
    
    protected interest;” (2) a “causal connection [exists] between the injury and the
    
    conduct complained of;” and (3) the injury is capable of being redressed by the
    
    court. See Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 
    504 U.S. 555
    , 560-61 (1992) (citations
    
    omitted); Granite State Outdoor Adver., 
    351 F.3d 1112
    , 1116 (11th Cir. 2003).
    
    Moreover, the plaintiff’s injury must be “concrete and particularized, and actual or
    
    imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical.” Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560 (citations
    
    omitted). Pursuant to various provisions of St. John’s County’s sign Ordinance,
    
    both Café Erotica and We Dare to Bare have been ordered to remove certain signs,
    
    some of which display political messages. In addition, both parties retain
    
    substantial interests in the outcome of this litigation, as both parties stand to gain
    
    by a favorable ruling. As such, both parties may challenge Ordinance 99-51 as
    
    applied.
    
          We also have jurisdiction to consider whether Ordinance 99-51 is facially
    
                                              11
    invalid. When a statute is challenged as facially invalid, a court may entertain
    
    such a challenge where every application of the challenged provision may create
    
    an impermissible risk of suppression of ideas. See Freedman v. Maryland, 
    380 U.S. 51
    , 56-7 (1965). As determined below, with respect to the decision of
    
    whether to issue or deny a sign permit, Ordinance 99-51 places “unbridled
    
    discretion” in the hands of the County Administrator. Thus, Ordinance 99-51
    
    creates “a realistic danger that the statute itself will significantly compromise
    
    recognized First Amendment protections,” and we may therefore entertain a facial
    
    challenge. See City Council of Los Angeles v. Taxpayers for Vincent, 
    466 U.S. 789
    , 801 (1984); City of Lakewood v. Plain Dealer Publ’g Co., 
    486 U.S. 750
    , 757
    
    (1988). Further, the fact that Café Erotica and We Dare to Bare primarily engage
    
    in commercial advertising does not prevent us from considering their facial
    
    challenges. See Metromedia, Inc. v. City of San Diego, 
    453 U.S. 490
    , 505 n.11
    
    (1981).
    
                                  IV.    STANDARD OF REVIEW
    
            We review orders granting summary judgment de novo. See Joel v. City of
    
    Orlando, 
    232 F.3d 1353
    , 1357 (11th Cir. 2000).10 We also review decisions of
    
    
           10
              A party is entitled to summary judgment “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to
    interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no
    genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a
    
                                                     12
    lower courts addressing the constitutionality of ordinances de novo. Id.
    
                             V.      PRIOR RESTRAINT ANALYSIS
    
           We analyze certain challenged portions of Ordinance 99-51 under prior
    
    restraint analysis and others under content-based analysis. We start with prior
    
    restraint analysis because our holding in this section highlights the potential for
    
    content-based decisionmaking under Ordinance 99-51. When analyzing a facial
    
    challenge, we must analyze the statute as written. See Redner v. Dean, 
    29 F.3d 1495
    , 1501 (11th Cir. 1994).
    
           A prior restraint on speech exists “when the government can deny access to
    
    a forum for expression before the expression occurs.” United States v. Frandsen,
    
    
    212 F.3d 1231
    , 1236-37 (11th Cir. 2000). Ordinance 99-51 requires a permit prior
    
    to erecting any new billboard,11 thereby making it a restraint on speech in advance
    
    
    matter of law.” FED . R. CIV . P. 56(c); see also Focus on the Family v. Pinellas Suncoast Transit
    Auth., 
    344 F.3d 1263
    , 1271 (11th Cir. 2003). The burden rests on the moving party to
    demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, and we will construe the record and
    all inferences from it in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See id. at 1271-72.
           11
               The County argues that a permit is only required for construction of a new sign and is
    not needed to change the message of an existing sign, thereby circumventing prior restraint
    concerns. However, the prevention of new sign construction goes hand-in-hand with the
    resulting suppression of speech. Not all speakers have access to existing billboards, and other
    forms of communicating can be “insufficient, inappropriate and prohibitively expensive.” See
    Metromedia, 453 U.S. at 525. Thus, some speakers, like Café Erotica, could effectively be
    silenced by the County’s permitting requirements. See, e.g., Eu v. San Francisco County
    Democratic Cent. Comm., 
    489 U.S. 214
    , 226 n.16 (1989) (“[s]uch a [potentially] blanket
    prohibition cannot coexist with the constitutional protection of political speech”); see also City of
    Erie v. Pap’s A.M., 
    529 U.S. 277
    , 293 (2000) (noting that “there may be cases in which banning
    
                                                     13
    of its occurrence. See Ward v. Rock Against Racism, 
    491 U.S. 781
    , 795 n.5 (1989)
    
    (for prior restraint analysis, “[t]he relevant question is whether the challenged
    
    regulation authorizes suppression of speech in advance of its expression”).
    
    Although “prior restraints are not unconstitutional per se[,] any system of prior
    
    restraint . . . bear[s] a heavy presumption against its constitutional validity.”
    
    Southeastern Promotions, Ltd. v. Conrad, 
    420 U.S. 546
    , 558 (1975). Accordingly,
    
    we must consider whether Ordinance 99-51 is an impermissible prior restraint.
    
           Prior restraints must (1) ensure that permitting decisions are made within a
    
    specified time period, see FW/PBS, Inc. v. City of Dallas, 
    493 U.S. 215
    , 226-27
    
    (1990) (plurality opinion) (citing Freedman, 380 U.S. at 59); and must (2) avoid
    
    “unbridled discretion” in the hands of a government official. See id. at 225-26
    
    (quoting Lakewood, 486 U.S. at 757); see also Lady J. Lingerie, Inc. v. City of
    
    Jacksonville, 
    176 F.3d 1358
    , 1361 (11th Cir. 1999) (“licensing schemes commonly
    
    contain two defects: discretion and the opportunity for delay”). The Café district
    
    court found that Ordinance 99-51 lacked both of these requirements. After careful
    
    analysis, we find that the first requirement above is satisfied; however, as discussed
    
    below, we also find that Ordinance 99-51 unconstitutionally grants unbridled
    
    discretion in the hands of just one government official.
    
    
    the means of expression so interferes with the message that it essentially bans the message”).
    
                                                    14
    A.    FW/PBS REQUIREMENT #1: SUFFICIENT TIME LIMITS FOR
          ISSUING PERMITTING DECISIONS
    
          “A scheme that fails to set reasonable time limits on the decisionmaker
    
    creates the risk of indefinitely suppressing permissible speech,” and therefore will
    
    not be tolerated. FW/PBS, 493 U.S. at 227 (plurality opinion) . To satisfy this
    
    requirement, an ordinance should contain two procedural safeguards: (1) licensing
    
    officials must be required to make prompt decisions; and (2) prompt judicial review
    
    must be available to correct erroneous denials. Lady J. Lingerie, 176 F.3d at 1362-
    
    63 (citation omitted). Ordinance 99-51 satisfies the first FW/PBS requirement
    
    because it contains both procedural safeguards set forth above.
    
          With respect to the first safeguard – that licensing officials be required to
    
    make prompt decisions – Ordinance 99-51 states,
    
          Applications for Sign Permits shall be approved or denied, by the
          County Administrator, within fourteen (14) days of submittal of a fully
          completed application. If more information is required from the
          applicant in order to complete review of the application, the fourteen
          (14) day period shall run from receipt of that additional information.
          If the applicant certifies in writing that the application is complete, the
          fourteen (14) day period shall run from the [certification] date.
    
    LDC § 7.00.01(C).
    
          The Café district court was concerned that, under these requirements, the
    
    County Administrator could unduly delay the permitting process. However,
    
                                             15
    Ordinance 01-34 amends this section. See Coalition for the Abolition of
    
    Marijuana Prohibition, 219 F.3d at 1310 (noting that a superseding ordinance
    
    moots a case to the extent that it removes challenged features of the prior law).
    
    The Ordinance as amended now gives the County Administrator thirty days to
    
    deny or approve a fully completed sign application and twenty days to notify the
    
    applicant of any deficiencies. Significantly, if the application is not approved or
    
    denied within the thirty-day period, the sign permit is deemed denied. See
    
    Ordinance 01-34 § 7.00.01(C). Thus, the County Administrator cannot delay the
    
    permitting process indefinitely, and an applicant should receive a final denial well
    
    within ninety days of its initial submission. See Redner, 29 F.3d at 1500 (holding
    
    that a forty-five day restraint is reasonable, and expressing agreement with other
    
    federal courts that have found time periods as long as ninety days to be
    
    reasonable); but see Fly Fish, Inc. v. City of Cocoa Beach, 
    337 F.3d 1301
    , 1314
    
    (11th Cir. 2003) (ordinance setting forth no real time limits deemed
    
    unconstitutional).
    
          Ordinance 99-51 also satisfies the second safeguard – that “prompt judicial
    
    review” be available. With respect to licensing schemes, this requirement means
    
    that the ordinance must provide for prompt judicial review of a permit denial,
    
    rather than prompt judicial resolution. See Boss Capital, Inc. v. City of
    
                                             16
    Casselberry, 
    187 F.3d 1251
    , 1256 (11th Cir. 1999). Ordinance 99-51 satisfies this
    
    requirement because LDC § 7.00.08 provides that an adverse decision may be
    
    appealed to the Circuit Court within thirty days. See id. (finding “prompt judicial
    
    review” requirement met where ordinance specified that licensing decisions “may
    
    be immediately reviewed as a matter of right by the Circuit Court”).
    
    
         B.    FW/PBS REQUIREMENT #2: NO UNBRIDLED DISCRETION
    
          Although Ordinance 99-51 satisfies the first FW/PBS requirement, we find
    
    that Ordinance 99-51 is an unconstitutional prior restraint because the discretion it
    
    grants to the County Administrator extends beyond permissible boundaries. See
    
    Shuttlesworth v. City of Birmingham, 
    394 U.S. 147
    , 150-51 (1969) (“a law
    
    subjecting the exercise of First Amendment freedoms to the prior restraint of a
    
    license, without narrow, objective, and definite standards to guide the licensing
    
    authority, is unconstitutional”); Saia v. New York, 
    334 U.S. 558
     (1948) (ordinance
    
    found facially invalid because discretion of decision-maker was unlimited); Fly
    
    Fish, Inc., 337 F.3d at 1313 (ordinance struck down as unconstitutional because it
    
    “exceed[ed] the limits of permissible ‘ministerial discretion’”); Lady J. Lingerie,
    
    176 F.3d at 1362 (“virtually any amount of discretion beyond the merely
    
    ministerial is suspect” and therefore “[s]tandards must be precise and objective”).
    
    
    
                                             17
          The County argues that its Ordinance does not give the County
    
    Administrator discretion to reject a sign based on its content because the sign
    
    applicant need not disclose the sign’s message. Even if we were to accept this
    
    argument, however, the Ordinance still fails to address our primary concern – that
    
    there be “reasonably specific and objective” grounds for denying a permit
    
    application that are “narrowly drawn, reasonable, and definite” so as to
    
    sufficiently reduce the potential for content-based decisionmaking. Thomas v.
    
    Chicago Park Dist., 
    534 U.S. 316
    , 324 (2002); Redner, 29 F.3d at 1501 (citations
    
    omitted) (without adequate standards to guide the licensing authority, “[w]e
    
    cannot depend on the individuals responsible for enforcing the Ordinance to do so
    
    in a manner that cures it of constitutional infirmities”).
    
          Ordinance 99-51 lacks specific and definite statutory checks on the County
    
    Administrator’s discretion, thereby impermissibly creating the potential for
    
    content-based discrimination. Ordinance 99-51 contains the same constitutional
    
    flaws as the ordinance struck down in City of Lakewood v. Plain Dealer Publ’g
    
    Co., 
    486 U.S. 750
     (1988). In Lakewood, the Supreme Court noted that “the face of
    
    the ordinance itself contains no explicit limits on the mayor’s discretion. Indeed,
    
    nothing in the law as written requires the mayor to do more than make the
    
    statement ‘it is not in the public interest’ when denying a permit application.” Id.
    
                                              18
    at 769. Like the Lakewood ordinance, Ordinance 99-51 contains no explicit limits
    
    on the County Administrator’s discretion. Rather, Ordinance 99-51 simply states
    
    that permits shall be reviewed by the County Administrator and issued “in
    
    accordance with the [Standard Building Code].” LDC § 7.00.01.12 A review of
    
    the Standard Building Code reveals that Ordinance 99-51 does not provide
    
    specific grounds under which the Administrator may deny a billboard permit
    
    application. Any such grant of unrestrained discretion to an official responsible
    
    for regulating First Amendment activities is facially unconstitutional. See Atlanta
    
    Journal and Constitution v. City of Atlanta Dept. of Aviation, 
    322 F.3d 1298
    , 1311
    
    (11th Cir. 2003) (en banc). Thus, as the Supreme Court has noted, the
    
    Constitution requires that St. Johns County “establish neutral criteria to insure that
    
    the licensing decision is not based on the content or viewpoint of the speech being
    
    considered.” Lakewood, 486 U.S. at 760. Such criteria should be expressly
    
    included within the County’s sign Ordinance, and should set forth specific
    
    content-neutral grounds under which a sign permit may be denied. See, e.g.,
    
    Thomas, 534 U.S. at 322 (upholding an ordinance listing thirteen specific grounds
    
    under which a permit application may be denied, none of which “has anything to
    
    
    
           12
              Additionally, “permit applications for on-premise signs shall be in accordance with Part
    7.02.00,” which sets forth requirements for on-premise signs. LDC §§ 7.00.01, 7.02.01.
    
                                                   19
    do with what a speaker might say”).13
    
    
    VI.    APPLICABLE FIRST AMENDMENT FRAMEWORK FOR CONTENT
           BASED ANALYSIS
    
           We now consider whether § 7.03.01, which limits “political message signs”
    
    to thirty-two square feet, impermissibly favors commercial messages over non-
    
    commercial ones. We must first determine the appropriate analytical framework to
    
    apply when considering the constitutionality of regulations restricting non-
    
    commercial speech placed on billboards.
    
           The regulation of billboards is controlled by Metromedia, as “the law of
    
    billboards” is “a law unto itself.” Metromedia, 453 U.S. at 501; see Ackerly
    
    
           13
              In Thomas, the Supreme Court upheld a permitting scheme whereby “the object of the
    permit system (as plainly indicated by the permissible grounds for permit denial) is not to
    exclude communication of a particular content, but to coordinate multiple uses of limited space,
    to assure preservation of . . . facilities, to prevent uses that are dangerous, unlawful, or
    impermissible . . . and to assure financial accountability for damage caused by the [applicant].”
    Thomas, 534 U.S. at 322 (emphasis added). The ordinance set forth eleven numbered grounds
    under which a permit could be denied, including: “the application for permit contains a material
    falsehood or misrepresentation,” “the applicant has not tendered the required application fee,”
    “the applicant . . . has on prior occasions damaged . . . property [for which a permit was
    granted],” and “the use or activity intended by the applicant would present an unreasonable
    danger to the health or safety of the applicant or . . . the public.” Id. at 319 n.1. In the instant
    case, the County should adopt similar content-neutral bases for which the County Administrator
    may deny a permit, so that it is clear that the object of the permitting scheme is not to exclude
    communication of a particular type of content. See also Atlanta Journal and Constitution, 322
    F.3d at 1311 (“The official charged with administering the Plan should have clear standards by
    which to accept or reject a [permit] request . . . . Perhaps a first-come, first-served system, a
    lottery system, or a system in which each [applicant] is limited to a percentage of available
    [mediums of expression] would be appropriate vehicles for limiting the official’s discretion. We
    leave the intricacies of the safeguards to the Department . . . .”).
    
                                                     20
    Communications v. Krochalis, 
    108 F.3d 1095
    , 1099 (9th Cir. 1997) (“Metromedia
    
    continues to control the regulation of billboards”). Metromedia instructs courts to
    
    employ one of two distinct analytical frameworks, depending on whether the
    
    restriction is of commercial or noncommercial speech. See Metromedia, 453 U.S.
    
    at 504-05.14 Ordinance 99-51 distinguishes between commercial and
    
    noncommercial speech, thereby taking this case out of the realm of regulations of
    
    purely commercial speech.
    
           With respect to restrictions placed on noncommercial speech, the County
    
    argues that our inquiry should be confined to whether its Ordinance discriminates
    
    based on viewpoint. In striking down the portion of San Diego’s sign ordinance
    
    that favored commercial over noncommercial speech, however, the Metromedia
    
    plurality explicitly rejected a strictly viewpoint-based analysis, holding that the
    
    First Amendment not only prevents the government from distinguishing between
    
    different viewpoints but also from distinguishing between broad categories or
    
    
    
    
           14
               With respect to restrictions on purely commercial speech, the Metromedia plurality
    applied a four-part test: “(1) The First Amendment protects commercial speech only if that
    speech concerns lawful activity and is not misleading. A restriction on otherwise protected
    commercial speech is valid only if it (2) seeks to implement a substantial governmental interest,
    (3) directly advances that interest, and (4) reaches no further than necessary to accomplish the
    given objective.” Metromedia, 453 U.S. at 507 (quoting Central Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp. v.
    Public Serv. Comm’n of New York, 
    447 U.S. 557
    , 563-66 (1980)).
    
                                                    21
    types of speech. See Metromedia, 453 U.S. at 519.15 Because the Metromedia
    
    decision controls “the law of billboards,” we will apply the analytical framework
    
    employed by the Metromedia plurality.16
    
           Consistent with Metromedia, we first ask whether Ordinance 99-51 is a
    
    valid, content-neutral time, place, and manner regulation. This is the test
    
    employed by the Café district court.17 In order to be constitutional, a time, place,
    
    
    
           15
               In Consolidated Edison Co. v. Public Service Comm'n, 
    447 U.S. 530
     (1980), the
    Supreme Court declared, “[t]he First Amendment’s hostility to content-based regulation extends
    not only to restrictions on particular viewpoints, but also to prohibition of public discussion of an
    entire topic. As a general matter, ‘the First Amendment means that government has no power to
    restrict expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its content.’” Consol.
    Edison, 447 U.S. at 537. Based on this language, the County’s reliance on Messer v. City of
    Douglasville, Ga., 
    975 F.2d 1505
     (11th Cir. 1992), is misplaced. In that case, the sole issue was
    “whether a regulation allowing onsite noncommercial signs while denying offsite noncommercial
    signs would be constitutionally permissible.” Messer, 975 F.2d at 1509 (emphasis added).
    Because the type of sign at issue was the same whether onsite or offsite (noncommercial vs.
    noncommercial), in considering whether the ordinance was content-based, the court only
    considered whether viewpoint discrimination existed. This case, however, deals with
    discrimination between commercial and noncommercial messages, making viewpoint analysis
    only part of the content-based inquiry.
           16
              The County argues that the proper test is that applied in United States v. O’Brien, 
    391 U.S. 367
     (1968). However, this framework cannot be applied to Ordinance 99-51. O’Brien
    involved a law that “on its face deals with conduct having no connection with speech,” while
    Metromedia dealt with “the law of billboards.” Compare O’Brien, 391 U.S. at 375 (emphasis
    added) with Metromedia, 453 U.S. at 501. As this Court recently noted, O’Brien has generally
    been applied only when “evaluat[ing] regulations of expressive conduct – conduct that contains
    both ‘speech’ and ‘nonspeech’ elements,” such as nude dancing. See Lady J. Lingerie, 176 F.3d
    at 1364 (citing O’Brien, 391 U.S. at 376).
           17
               The district court in St. Johns County v. Café Erotica of Florida, Inc. first applied time,
    place, and manner analysis, but then found that because Ordinance 99-51 singled out political
    speech for different treatment, the County would have to justify this disparate treatment under a
    strict scrutiny standard. We believe this is the correct analytical framework.
    
                                                     22
    and manner regulation may not be based upon the content of the regulated speech,
    
    must be narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest, and must
    
    leave open ample alternative channels for communication of the information. See
    
    Rock Against Racism, 491 U.S. at 791.18 If the regulation is deemed content-
    
    based, however, our inquiry becomes more exacting, as we then apply strict
    
    scrutiny. See Consol. Edison, 447 U.S. at 536; One World One Family Now v.
    
    City of Miami Beach, 
    175 F.3d 1282
    , 1286 (11th Cir. 1999). Under strict scrutiny,
    
    the government must show that the regulation is narrowly tailored to serve a
    
    compelling state interest. One World One Family Now, 175 F.3d at 1286.
    
           Thus, we must now determine whether Ordinance 99-51 is content-based.
    
    Metromedia held that discriminating among political messages is not always
    
    required for an ordinance to be deemed content-based. See Metromedia, 453 U.S.
    
    at 519. Rather, discriminating in favor of commercial messages over political
    
    ones, without regard to the actual messages conveyed, is also content-based
    
    discrimination. See id. at 513. Our inquiry therefore becomes whether Ordinance
    
    99-51 in fact favors commercial messages over political ones.
    
    
    
    
           18
               In Rock Against Racism, the regulated concert venue was open to all performers, was
    regulated to control its noise level, and was deemed a public forum, thereby requiring analysis as
    a time, place, and manner regulation. Rock Against Racism, 491 U.S. at 790.
    
                                                    23
    VII.          DISTINCTION FAVORING COMMERCIAL OVER NON-
                  COMMERCIAL SPEECH IS CONTENT-BASED
    
           St. Johns County argues that the Ordinance does not favor commercial
    
    speech over political messages because under its reading of LDC § 12.01.00
    
    (defining “billboards”), any speech, including political messages, can be placed on
    
    billboards.19 Under the County’s argument, the Ordinance simply provides an
    
    additional, superfluous provision regarding “political message signs.”
    
           While the County’s interpretation is entitled to deference, Southlake Prop.
    
    Assocs. v. City of Morrow, 
    112 F.3d 1114
    , 1119 (11th Cir. 1997), we need only
    
    defer to the County’s interpretation when that interpretation is “based on a
    
    permissible construction of the ordinance.” Id. However, the County’s
    
    interpretation effectively rewrites the Ordinance by completely disregarding
    
    certain Ordinance provisions and is flawed for several additional reasons.
    
           First, the County disregards the plain fact that the Ordinance limits
    
    “political message signs” to thirty-two square feet. Significantly, Ordinance 99-51
    
    defines “political message signs” as “[a]ny Sign containing a non-commercial
    
    opinion or endorsement message and not containing a commercial message,”
    
    
    
           19
              But note that under Ordinance 99-51, “political message signs” can be no larger than
    thirty-two square feet, while billboards can be as large as 560 square feet. See LDC §§
    7.03.01(L), 7.01.03(A).
    
                                                   24
    which by its terms encapsulates all signs carrying a non-commercial message, and
    
    then restricts such signs to sizes far below that allowed for billboards. See In re
    
    Gosman, 
    282 B.R. 45
    , 49 (Bankr. S.D.Fla. 2002) (“‘Any’ does not refer to certain
    
    things and not others. ‘Any’ means ‘every’ and ‘all.’ It is unlimited.”); see also
    
    LDC § 12.00.00. Further, the definition of “billboard” makes no mention of “non-
    
    commercial” signs. LDC § 12.00.00. Thus, the County’s interpretation disregards
    
    the plain language of the Ordinance.20 If the County truly intended political and
    
    commercial messages to be on equal footing, the County would not have regulated
    
    the size of “political message signs” separately. The separate size limitation
    
    cannot be ignored as superfluous. This conclusion is supported by multiple
    
    canons of interpretation. See, e.g., Connecticut Nat’l Bank v. Germain, 
    503 U.S. 249
    , 253 (1992) (“courts should disfavor interpretations of statutes that render
    
    language superfluous”); United States v. Louwsma, 
    970 F.2d 797
    , 799 (11th Cir.
    
    1992) (“a precisely drawn statute dealing with a specific subject controls over a
    
    statute covering a more generalized spectrum”).
    
    
           20
               The Café district court also hesitated to uphold an ordinance containing such internal
    inconsistencies, stating that “the Code . . . creates an internal confusion in that if the County
    Administrator determines that a sign contains ‘political message’ speech, its size must be limited
    to thirty-two square feet. On the other hand, [under the County’s interpretation] off-premise
    billboards and on-premise signs can apparently also include political speech, and could be as
    large as 560 square feet . . . . The County offers no explanation for this confusion.” Café Erotica
    of Florida, Inc. v. St. Johns County, No. 98-005597 CV-J-21-HTS, at 18 (M.D. Fla. Dec. 4,
    2002) (order granting summary judgment).
    
                                                    25
          Second, the County’s interpretation, which would allow purely political
    
    messages to be displayed on billboards, is inconsistent with LDC § 7.03.01(L).
    
    Section 7.03.01(L) states in its entirety, “political message signs [are] limited to
    
    thirty-two (32) square feet, except those in residential districts which shall not
    
    exceed six (6) square feet.” (emphasis added). If the County actually intended for
    
    billboards to carry political messages, the County would have presumably
    
    included a second exception stating, “and except those on billboards which shall
    
    not exceed 378 square feet.” This inference is supported by the maxim expressio
    
    unius est exclusio alterius, “expressing one item of an associated group or series
    
    excludes another left unmentioned.” See Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Echazabal, 
    536 U.S. 73
    , 80 (2002) (quoting United States v. Vonn, 
    535 U.S. 55
    , 65 (2002)).
    
          Third, the County’s interpretation cannot be reconciled with LDC §
    
    7.01.03(G), which states, “[a]ll billboards . . . within the County shall . . . have
    
    displayed on them [] the [o]wner’s name information displayed in such a manner
    
    as to provide clear readable visibility from the abutting road right-of-way during
    
    daylight hours.” The minimum space allowable between the billboard and the
    
    right-of-way is generally fifteen feet, but it can be up to six hundred feet along
    
    certain highways. A review of Café Erotica’s billboards reveals that this display
    
    requirement means that the corporation’s complete legal name must prominently
    
                                               26
    appear on the billboard facing. See LDC §§ 7.01.04(A), 7.01.04(E)6. Such a
    
    requirement makes sense for commercial messages, but not for political ones.
    
    Under the County’s interpretation of Ordinance 99-51, a sign displaying the
    
    message “Vote for John Smith” would also have to include the words “Café
    
    Erotica / We Dare to Bare / Adult Toys / Great Food / Exit 94, Inc.” in similar bold
    
    print. Such an interpretation is inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s direction
    
    that “an author’s decision to remain anonymous . . . is an aspect of the freedom of
    
    speech protected by the First Amendment.” McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm’n,
    
    
    514 U.S. 334
    , 341-42 (1995). However, we should construe ambiguities in a
    
    manner that avoids constitutional questions. See Southlake Prop. Assocs., 112
    
    F.3d at 1119.
    
          Finally, the County’s interpretation of Ordinance 99-51 gives the
    
    Administrator unbridled power to discriminate between political messages as he
    
    sees fit. On the one hand, the County believes that political messages may in fact
    
    be displayed on billboards. On the other hand, the County also concedes that
    
    “political message signs” carry greater size restrictions and are defined as “[a]ny
    
    Sign containing a non-commercial opinion or endorsement message and not
    
    containing a commercial message.” LDC § 12.01.00 (emphasis added). With
    
    these two provisions in place, the County has created a handy tool for
    
                                             27
    discriminating based on content. Presumably, if the County Administrator
    
    disagrees with the applicant’s likely message, then the County can utilize its
    
    “political message sign” tool and thereby restrict the sign to thirty-two square feet.
    
    Such a restriction would be entirely permissible under the Ordinance as written.
    
    See LDC § 12.01.00. If, on the other hand, the County Administrator reviews an
    
    application from an organization he agrees with ideologically, then the County can
    
    invoke its seemingly inclusive definition of “billboards” and allow that particular
    
    political message to be displayed much more prominently. 21 In this way, the
    
    County can effectively discriminate between political messages based solely upon
    
    political content, which the County cannot do absent compelling reasons. See Fly
    
    Fish, 337 F.3d at 1306 (quoting Rock Against Racism, 491 U.S. at 791) (a law that
    
    “suppresses protected speech because of disagreement with the message it conveys
    
    . . . violates the First Amendment, absent some compelling state interest in its
    
    enforcement”).
    
           The County contends that the Administrator is never given the opportunity
    
    to determine whether a sign contains political speech because the permit
    
    
           21
               We note that Billboards are defined as signs “over thirty-two (32) square feet in size
    that [are] used for off-premise outdoor advertising and display,” and they also include on-premise
    signs that exceed 300 square feet. LDC § 12.01.00. An “Advertising Message” is defined to
    include not only commercial messages, but also “political copy intended to directly or indirectly
    promote a candidate or issue.” LDC § 12.01.00.
    
                                                   28
    application does not require information regarding the message. However, the
    
    County needs information regarding, at a minimum, the type of proposed message
    
    in order to determine the appropriate sign category, which in turn determines the
    
    sign’s allowable size and location. Further, while it is true that the permit
    
    application does not require information regarding the proposed message, the
    
    County can often infer the content based on the nature of the applicant’s business.
    
    In this case, for example, there is a long history of conflict between Café Erotica
    
    and St. Johns County. Thus, any permit application submitted by Café Erotica
    
    could be denied simply because of the perceived danger of the sign’s possible
    
    political message or because of the undesirability of the applicant’s business –
    
    adult entertainment. Without discretion-checking guidelines, there is a distinct
    
    possibility that the County could decline to issue Café Erotica a permit based on
    
    content. See, e.g., Lakewood, 486 U.S. at 759-60 (a licensing scheme where “the
    
    licensor does not necessarily view the text of the words about to be spoken, but
    
    can measure their probable content or viewpoint by speech already uttered . . . is
    
    sufficiently threatening to invite judicial concern.”) (internal citations omitted).
    
          Having determined that Ordinance 99-51 does in fact distinguish based on
    
    content – both by allowing commercial messages to be displayed more
    
    prominently than political messages and by giving the County Administrator the
    
                                              29
    unchecked ability to discriminate between political messages, we now turn to
    
    Metromedia in order to determine whether such restrictions are nevertheless
    
    constitutional.22
    
                                  VIII. METROMEDIA APPLIED
    
           In Metromedia, the United States Supreme Court struck down San Diego’s
    
    ordinance generally banning the erection of off-premise outdoor advertising
    
    displays,23 including billboards. The ordinance provided two exceptions to the
    
    general prohibition: onsite signs24 and signs falling within one of twelve specified
    
    categories.25 Thus, onsite commercial advertisements were permitted, but offsite
    
    
           22
               The district court also found that the provision for bringing appeals underscores the
    very real possibility of content-based decision-making because it states that in any case “where
    the message or content of the proposed sign affected the denial of the permit,” the County must
    bear the burden of justifying the denial. The very enactment of such a provision appears to
    admit the possibility of content-based decisionmaking, which is the real concern of our First
    Amendment jurisprudence. See Thornhill v. Alabama, 
    310 U.S. 88
    , 97 (1940).
           23
               The San Diego ordinance generally prohibited the following signs: (1) any sign
    identifying a use, facility or service which is not located on the premises; (2) any sign identifying
    a product which is not produced, sold or manufactured on the premises; and (3) any sign which
    advertises a product, service or activity, event, person, institution or business which occurs or is
    conducted, sold, manufactured, produced or offered elsewhere than on the premises where such
    sign is located. Metromedia, 453 U.S. at 494 n.1.
           24
             Onsite signs are defined under the ordinance as those “designating the name of the
    owner or occupant of the premises upon which such signs are placed, or identifying such
    premises; or signs advertising goods manufactured or produced or services rendered on the
    premises upon which such signs are placed.” Metromedia, 453 U.S. at 494.
           25
              The specific categories exempted from the prohibition included: government signs;
    signs located at public bus stops; signs manufactured, transported, or stored within the city, if not
    used for advertising purposes; commemorative historical plaques; religious symbols; signs within
    
                                                     30
    commercial advertising and political messages on billboards were generally
    
    forbidden. The actual restriction on outdoor signs was defined by reference to the
    
    structural characteristics of the sign, but also by reference to the sign’s content.
    
    Specifically, the regulation only applied to a “permanent structure . . . used for the
    
    display of [] a commercial or other advertisement to the public.” Id. at 503.
    
    Companies engaged in the business of outdoor advertising challenged the San
    
    Diego ordinance as facially invalid.
    
           The Metromedia Court made two distinct rulings. First, with respect to the
    
    limits placed on purely commercial speech, the Court ruled that off-site
    
    commercial billboards may be prohibited while on-site commercial billboards are
    
    not. Id. at 512 (applying four-part Central Hudson test for restrictions on
    
    commercial speech). Second, the Metromedia Court struck down the portion of
    
    the San Diego ordinance that banned billboards displaying political messages.
    
    The Court held:
    
           [O]ur recent commercial speech cases have consistently accorded
           noncommercial speech a greater degree of protection than commercial
           speech. San Diego effectively inverts this judgment, by affording a
           greater degree of protection to commercial than to noncommercial
           speech. . . . The use of onsite billboards to carry commercial messages
    
    
    shopping malls; for sale and for lease signs; signs on public and commercial vehicles; signs
    depicting time, temperature, and news; approved temporary, off-premises, subdivision directional
    signs; and temporary political campaign signs. See Metromedia, 453 U.S. at 494-95.
    
                                                  31
          related to the commercial use of the premises is freely permitted, but
          the use of otherwise identical billboards to carry noncommercial
          messages is generally prohibited. The city does not explain how or
          why noncommercial billboards located in places where commercial
          billboards are permitted would be more threatening to safe driving or
          would detract more from the beauty of the city. Insofar as the city
          tolerates billboards at all, it cannot choose to limit their content to
          commercial messages.
    
    Metromedia, 453 U.S. at 513.
    
          The same impermissible preferences that the Supreme Court found
    
    unconstitutional in Metromedia are also present here, but in a different form. In
    
    Metromedia, the provision struck down allowed all onsite commercial billboards,
    
    but almost completely banned similar noncommercial signs. The instant case
    
    involves a similar unconstitutional preference, but in the form of greater size
    
    restrictions for noncommercial messages vis-á-vis commercial ones. While
    
    Ordinance 99-51 does not involve a complete ban on political speech, neither did
    
    the Metromedia ordinance, as it provided several exemptions from the permitting
    
    requirements for certain noncommercial speech. Just as in Metromedia, “the
    
    [County] may not conclude that the communication of commercial information
    
    concerning goods and services connected with a particular site is of greater value
    
    than the communication of noncommercial messages.” Id. at 513. By limiting the
    
    size of political messages to roughly 1/17 that of commercial ones, that is
    
    
    
                                             32
    precisely what the County has done. Because of its preference for commercial
    
    speech, the Metromedia Court struck down the San Diego ordinance as
    
    unconstitutional on its face. See Metromedia, 453 U.S. at 521. We must do the
    
    same, unless the County can satisfy the requirements of strict scrutiny.
    
           Because Ordinance 99-51 discriminates against political speech in favor of
    
    commercial speech, the County must provide compelling reasons for this disparate
    
    treatment that are narrowly tailored to further those interests. See Metromedia,
    
    453 U.S. at 516-17; see also Consol. Edison, 447 U.S. at 540. The County’s stated
    
    goals are to protect the safety and aesthetic interests of its citizens. The County
    
    argues that its Ordinance is of no greater restraint on speech than is necessary to
    
    protect those interests. The goals of safety and aesthetics are no doubt
    
    “substantial.” 26 However, while size limitations may be justified for all signs
    
    based on safety and aesthetics, these interests cannot justify allowing billboards to
    
    be built up to 560 square feet while allowing a maximum of only thirty-two square
    
    feet for political message signs. The Ordinance contains no findings of fact
    
    suggesting that political speech distracts motorists more than commercial
    
    
    
           26
              The Supreme Court in Metromedia ruled that there could not be “substantial doubt that
    the twin goals [of] traffic safety and the appearance of the city [] are substantial governmental
    goals.” Metromedia, 453 U.S. at 507-08. Because we find that Ordinance 99-51 is not narrowly
    tailored, we need not determine whether the interests of safety and aesthetics are “compelling.”
    
                                                   33
    messages or that political signs are more aesthetically displeasing than commercial
    
    advertisements. In short, “safety” and “aesthetics” are not truly furthered by an
    
    ordinance that allows one small, “safe,” and visually pleasant political sign to be
    
    placed adjacent to a large, “unsafe,” and aesthetically displeasing commercial
    
    billboard.
    
          We also find the County’s argument unpersuasive for the reasons stated in
    
    Metromedia, which declared, “by allowing commercial establishments to use
    
    billboards to advertise the products and services they offer, the city necessarily has
    
    conceded that some communicative interests, e.g., onsite commercial advertising,
    
    are stronger than its competing interests in esthetics and traffic safety. It has
    
    nevertheless banned all noncommercial signs except those specifically excepted.”
    
    Id. at 520. Like the city of San Diego, St. Johns County has conceded that
    
    allowing a certain number of billboards outweighs its interests in aesthetics and
    
    safety; however, the County favors commercial messages over political ones by
    
    allowing commercial messages to be displayed more prominently. This amounts
    
    to an unconstitutional preference for commercial speech over political speech. See
    
    id. at 513 n.18. The County can achieve its goals simply by mandating that all
    
    messages, whether political or commercial, be limited to the same size. See
    
    Consol. Edison, 447 U.S. at 542 n.11.
    
                                              34
           Because we find that Ordinance 99-51 makes unconstitutional content-
    
    based distinctions, we need not consider whether alternative channels are available
    
    for the regulated speech. See Consol. Edison, 447 U.S. at 541 n.10.
    
    
    IX.   SEVERANCE: THE DISTRICT COURT PROPERLY REFUSED TO
          SEVER THE POLITICAL MESSAGE PROVISIONS
    
          Ordinance 99-51 contains a severability provision. However, the Café
    
    district court ruled that it could not sever the unconstitutional provisions of
    
    Ordinance 99-51 and still be left with a workable statute. The district court noted
    
    the two competing policies at stake, that “the Court must make every reasonable
    
    construction of the Ordinance to save it from unconstitutionality; at the same time,
    
    the Court will not re-write an ordinance [because this is] a function that is within
    
    the province of the County.” Café Erotica of Florida, Inc. v. St. Johns County,
    
    No. 98-005597 CV-J-21-HTS, at 26 (M.D. Fla. Dec. 4, 2002) (order granting
    
    summary judgment). The district court also recognized that Florida law requires it
    
    to sever any provisions of the Ordinance that it finds unconstitutional, while
    
    allowing valid portions to stand, but only if problematic provisions “can be
    
    distinguished and clearly separated” from the remainder. See Lysaght v. City of
    
    New Smyrna Beach, 
    159 So. 2d 869
    , 870 (Fla. 1964).
    
          We also find that severance is inappropriate. The interests of federalism
    
                                              35
    and comity dictate conservatism to federal courts in imposing their interpretative
    
    views on state statutes. See National Adver. Co. v. Town of Niagara, 
    942 F.2d 145
    , 151 (2d Cir. 1991). We agree with the County that the provision separately
    
    regulating “political message signs” is easily severable. However, severance of
    
    just this one provision will not address our concerns with the Administrator’s
    
    unfettered discretion. Therefore, we affirm the district courts’ decision in striking
    
    down the entire St. Johns County sign Ordinance, codified as Article VII of the St.
    
    Johns County LDC.
    
                                             X.     CONCLUSION
    
              We reverse the district courts’ ruling that § 7.00.0127 and § 7.00.0828 are
    
    facially unconstitutional. We affirm the district courts’ ruling that § 7.03.0129 of
    
    Ordinance 99-51 is facially unconstitutional and cannot be severed from the rest of
    
    Article VII of the LDC. We also hold that the lack of specific guidelines needed
    
    to limit the discretion of the County Administrator creates an unconstitutional
    
    prior restraint on speech.
    
    
    
              27
                   Setting forth the time limits in which St. Johns County must approve or deny a sign
    permit.
              28
                   Describing the appeals process and time limits for challenging a permit denial.
              29
            Setting forth the requirements for “special use signs,” including limiting “political
    message signs” to thirty-two square feet generally and six square feet in residential districts.
    
                                                         36
          Finding severance inappropriate under these circumstances, we strike down
    
    Article VII of the St. Johns County LDC in its entirety. Because we find
    
    Ordinance 99-51 unconstitutional on its face, we need not determine whether
    
    Ordinance 99-51 is unconstitutional as applied to the appellees.
    
    AFFIRMED in part, and REVERSED in part.
    
    
    
    
                                            37
    KRAVITCH, concurring in part, dissenting in part:
    
          The majority holds that the St. John’s County Ordinance runs afoul of the
    
    First Amendment in two separate ways. First, the ordinance creates an
    
    unacceptable prior restraint on speech by placing too much discretion in the
    
    county administrators in accepting or rejecting sign licenses. Second, the
    
    ordinance favors commercial over non-commercial speech, thereby, disfavoring
    
    core political speech. Although I agree with the legal standards announced in the
    
    majority opinion, I disagree, in part, with the application of these standards to the
    
    ordinance at issue here. Specifically, in my view, the ordinance establishes
    
    sufficiently explicit and objective standards for reviewing sign applications and
    
    thus does not vest administrators with unbridled discretion. In addition, the
    
    ordinance provides less protection for non-commercial speech only with regard to
    
    on-premise signs. Therefore, I respectfully concur only in part with the majority’s
    
    holding.
    
    
    
          I. Prior Restraint Analysis
    
          As the majority correctly states, county administrators may not have
    
    unbridled discretion to determine who can announce their commercial and non-
    
    commercial viewpoints. See City of Lakewood v. Plain Dealer Publ’g Co., 486
    
                                              
    38 U.S. 750
    , 
    108 S. Ct. 2138
    , 
    100 L. Ed. 2d 771
     (1988). For instance, in City of
    
    Lakewood, the Supreme Court determined that a city plan, which allowed the
    
    mayor to determine unilaterally which newspapers could place newsracks on city
    
    streets and only required him to provide a reason for any denials, was an
    
    impermissible prior restraint because it vested too much discretion with the mayor.
    
    Id. at 753-60, 108 S.Ct. at 2142-46. There, the Supreme Court required “that the
    
    city establish neutral criteria to insure that the licensing decision is not based on
    
    the content or viewpoint of the speech being considered.” Id. at 760, 108 S.Ct. at
    
    2146.
    
            Here, St. John’s County has established neutral criteria for making its
    
    licensing decisions. The sign code is extensive and regulates the number, size,
    
    and construction of signs. The county has a legitimate state interest in regulating
    
    signs for traffic, safety, and aesthetic reasons, and, thus, it can establish a licensing
    
    procedure that limits the signs on these bases. See Metromedia v. City of San
    
    Diego, 
    453 U.S. 490
    , 502-03, 
    101 S. Ct. 2882
    , 2889-90, 
    69 L. Ed. 2d 800
     (1981).
    
    In addition, the county administrator must provide a written copy of the his
    
    decision, if requested, and the decision then can be appealed. See § 7.00.07. Both
    
    of these factors distinguish the St. John’s County’s ordinance from the one
    
    challenged in Lakewood.
    
                                               39
          The majority determines that there is the potential for content-based
    
    discrimination with regard to political message signs and on-premise signs, and
    
    that this creates a prior restraint problem. Although I agree that St. John’s County
    
    makes an impermissible distinction between commercial and non-commercial
    
    speech when regulating on-premise signs, I do not agree that this is a prior
    
    restraint issue. The process for receiving a sign permit is explained in detail,
    
    based on objective factors, and open to judicial review. In fact, the criteria are
    
    announced clearly enough for this court to rule on the substance of the code based
    
    on the face of the ordinance.
    
          Moreover, this court has held that county regulations that address the
    
    number, size and construction of outdoor signs are permissible. See Granite State
    
    Outdoor Advertising, Inc. v. City of Petersburg, 
    348 F.3d 1278
    , 1282 (11th Cir.
    
    2003). There, the city also drew distinctions between on-premise and off-premise
    
    advertising. The distinction in the ordinance required the city examiner to review
    
    the content of any proposed sign to determine if it met the ordinance’s
    
    requirements, although the city claimed that the review was not for viewpoint. Id.
    
    at 1282, n.3. Nonetheless, the court found that such minimal content based
    
    distinctions did not make the provision an impermissible prior restraint. Id. at
    
    1282. The existence of a content review, in itself, did not vest administrators with
    
                                              40
    unbridled discretion because the review was based on objective factors. Here, we
    
    review a similar sign regulation procedure. Although the ordinance may infringe
    
    on first amendment protections by making impermissible distinction between
    
    types of speech, it does not vest administrators with too much discretion.1
    
    
    
    II. Content Based Distinctions
    
    
    
           I agree with the majority that St. John’s County may not favor commercial
    
    messages over political messages. See Metromedia, 453 U.S. at 513, 101 S.Ct. at
    
    2895. However, I partly disagree that the ordinance challenged here does so. The
    
    
    
           1
             The majority notes that the ordinance’s process is not content-neutral because the
    appeal’s procedure required the County to make content-based decisions. Section 7.00.08. states
    that:
           In any case where the message or content of the proposed Sign affected the denial
           of the permit, the County shall bear the cost of initiating the case with the Circuit
           Court and shall also bear the burden of justifying the denial. In all other cases, the
           applicant shall have the burden to initiate the Circuit Court appeal, as provided by
           law.
    
            Although this provision demands a content-based analysis, it is not an impermissible
    prior restraint. First, there is not a Metromedia violation because commercial speech is not
    advantaged over non-commercial speech. Rather, the provision establishes a preference for
    “core” speech by making the county bear the burden of proof and costs of initiating cases in
    circuit court if a denial is based on the content of the message. Second, in Freedman v.
    Maryland, the Supreme Court required municipalities to “bear the burden of going to court to
    suppress speech and must bear the burden of proof once in court.” FW/PBS v. City of Dallas,
    
    493 U.S. 215
    , 227 (1990) (citing Freeman, 
    380 U.S. 51
    , 58-60, 
    85 S. Ct. 734
    , 738-40 (1965)).
    The county was most likely attempting to write its code to meet this Freedman requirement.
    
                                                  41
    majority determines that the county’s ordinance favors commercial speech for two
    
    reasons: first, political speech is limited to signs no more than 32 square feet but
    
    that commercial speech can be placed on larger billboards; and second, the
    
    ordinance prohibits political speech from being posted on an “on-premise” sign. I
    
    disagree that the St. John’s County ordinance does the former, but agree that it
    
    does the latter.
    
           On the first point, the plain text of the St. John’s ordinance permits both
    
    commercial and political messages on billboards, which can be as large as 560
    
    square feet. Section 7.01.03 regulates the size of billboards and contains no
    
    reference to the content. Section 7.03.01, by contrast, regulates special use signs.
    
    That section does not apply to billboards and expands the areas where political
    
    signs may be placed. That section states, in relevant part:
    
    
    
         The following Signs shall be allowed in addition to other Signs
         allowed by this Code and are subject to the provisions contained
         herein and violation of these provisions shall result in a violation of
         this Code....
         L. Political Message Signs, limited to thirty-two square feet, except
         those in residential districts which shall not exceed six (6) square feet.
    (Emphasis added).
    
           The majority concludes that this section limits political message signs to
    
    thirty-two square feet, a size much smaller than the 560 square feet permitted for
    
                                              42
    billboards. The most natural reading of the ordinance, however, leads to a
    
    different interpretation. Billboards, as large as 560 square feet, may contain
    
    political or commercial messages under § 7.01.03. Other signs bearing political
    
    messages are allowed in addition to billboards, but are limited to 32 square feet
    
    under § 7.03.01. In short, the political message signs provision in § 7.03.01 does
    
    not limit the size of political messages on billboards, but simply permits signs
    
    other than billboards. If residents of St. John’s County wish to publicize political
    
    views, they can do so on a 560 square foot billboard or on smaller signs in
    
    residential areas.
    
          On the second point, I agree with the majority that the county’s ordinance
    
    favors commercial speech over political speech in regulating on-premise signs.
    
    Here, the county restricts non-commercial speech where it permits commercial
    
    speech, and, thereby, provides less protection to “core” speech in violation of the
    
    Metromedia rule. For the above reasons, I concur in part and dissent in part with
    
    the majority opinion.
    
    
    
    
                                             43