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Mobile billboards will have to steer clear of residential Las Vegas neighborhoods -- at least unless or until someone gets a citation and takes the matter to court -- under a new ordinance adopted by the Las Vegas City Council on Wednesday.

The new law bars parking a mobile billboard within 500 feet of apartments, condominiums or single-family homes. It's scheduled to take effect Sunday.

The content of the signs undoubtedly played a role in the decision. The advertising medium, if not unique to Las Vegas, is surely more common here than in most places. A common feature of the mobile signs, often seen cruising Las Vegas Boulevard, are large photographic images of scantily-clad young women, advertising services which are either unspecified or described with easily deciphered euphemisms.

The ordinance does not apply to taxis or to other commercial vehicles, providing the sign on the vehicle advertises only the owner's own business, City Council members said.

Mayor Pro Tem Gary Reese proposed the ordinance after hearing complaints about an escort-service billboard driving around a residential neighborhood.

City officials also voiced concerns about mobile signs being parked in parking lots, making them effectively unlicensed stationary billboards. That problem, though, turned to have already been addressed in existing ordinances.

The ordinance has the support of at least one mobile billboard company, Big Traffic Mobile Boards. Owner Marla Letizia said the industry needs more regulation so it doesn't negatively affect non-commercial areas.

It's tempting to warn Ms. Letizia to be careful what she wishes for. While it would have been more encouraging to hear her at least broach the subject of the First Amendment's free speech protections, it's unfortunately all too common for one or more private businesses to encourage more regulation, if they believe the weight of such regulation will fall more heavily on their competitors.

The City Council's intent here is obvious, and easy to sympathize with. Even diehard fans of entrepreneurship and the free market might like to see such outfits exhibit a bit of restraint and common sense.

Like it or not, however, the City Council has probably just signed up the taxpayers to foot some more fruitless legal bills.

Will commercial taxicabs really be cited under this ordinance if they stray into residential neighborhoods -- or even park there -- while bearing rooftop signs bearing rear-view depictions of gals in G-strings, or pictures of hosed-down models crawling along nightclub bars on their knees and elbows? Probably not.

Which means attorneys for the first owner of a mobile billboard who chooses to fight a citation under this ordinance will be able to argue selective enforcement, as well as the obvious underlying infringement of the Constitution's guarantee of free speech.

You can sympathize with the council's intent. But the Bill of Rights will usually win -- thank goodness.

 

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