LV council moves to solve mobile billboard problems

Living in Las Vegas means accepting some things that other cities don’t have. Sidewalk racks with escort service ads, for example, or truck-mounted billboards with scantily clad women who “want to meet you.” But there are limits.

Dean Dupalo reached his threshold when he saw one of the adult services billboard trucks cruising his east Las Vegas neighborhood.

“I thought, ‘This is totally unacceptable,’ ” he said. “The neighborhood represents something far different than a commercial area. It is off-limits to be able to conduct that sort of business.”

Maybe it should be, but legally, apparently it’s not — at least not yet. Dupalo got in touch with Las Vegas officials, and the city introduced an ordinance this week that would ban parking or storing a mobile billboard within 500 feet of a single-family home. There would be exceptions for buses and taxicabs, and for vehicles carrying signs for the vehicle owner’s business.

As written, however, the ordinance might be so legally clumsy that it’ll fall flat, one expert said. Other local governments in Southern Nevada, meanwhile, have been able to handle the issue without having to pass new regulations.

Mayor Pro Tem Gary Reese said the problem he sees is mobile billboards parked in parking lots “for hours on end.” He said he’s noticed billboards parked in his ward on Charleston, Nellis Boulevard, Washington and Lamb Boulevard.

“You need to have a centralized location in an industrial zone where they’re parked overnight or when they’re not in use,” Reese said. “If it’s going to be mobile, then it’s going to be mobile. If it’s going to be stationary, then it has to abide by all the regulations that the billboard industry has to abide by.”

The ordinance Reese is sponsoring doesn’t seem to be aimed at that end, said Allen Lichtenstein of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada. The 500-foot requirement could make it difficult to put the trucks anywhere, since commercial areas are often close to residential neighborhoods.

“It looks more like an attempt to get rid of mobile billboards without saying they’re getting rid of mobile billboards,” Lichtenstein said. “In that sense, it’s the latest in a long line of City Council ordinances that are destined to be struck down.”

City Attorney Brad Jerbic said he didn’t hear any complaints from billboard companies when the city solicited input on the bill.

“If it was a problem for them, they certainly didn’t raise it,” Jerbic said. Only one business owner responded to the request for comment — Marla Letizia, co-owner of Big Traffic Mobile Billboards. She said she’s “thrilled” that the council is trying to address the issue.

Her company’s trucks do not carry the escort service ads. Her client list includes Subway, McDonald’s, MGM-Mirage and Harrah’s. The trucks are stored in a yard in an industrial area, which is an added cost that some of her competitors don’t share, since those truck drivers take their vehicles home.

“Finally, the City Council has the guts to do something to really regulate the industry,” she said. “It forces everybody to have to compete on the same level.”

In North Las Vegas and Clark County, officials take a different approach. Instead of making it a parking issue, they treat the signs — if they’re sitting somewhere in a commercial or residential area — as “off-premesis signs,” which is a fancy way of saying “illegal billboards” that have to be removed.

Billboards require special permits from the local governing body, and the locations of the signs are highly regulated.

“If it’s parked elsewhere than the business, it’s advertising,” said North Las Vegas spokeswoman Brenda Fischer. “It would be classified as an off-premesis sign, which is a code violation.”

Clark County takes a similar approach, said Joe Boteilho, code enforcement manager.

“Once they become static, it becomes something that we address,” he said, adding that there have not been complaints in the county of the trucks cruising residential neighborhoods.

The trucks carrying billboards like the ones often seen on the Strip are “very rare” offenders, Boteilho said. More common are 18-wheelers with a sign draped over the side, or “A-frame” signs — favorites of political candidates — erected at intersections.

Las Vegas considered that approach, Jerbic said, but it raised thorny issue.

“I agree that it’s an off-premesis sign,” he said. “But if it’s illegal when it’s parked, isn’t it illegal when they’re moving, too?”

Of course, this ordinance doesn’t address Dupalo’s original concern — an adult services billboard traveling through a residential area. He and Jerbic said a separate ordinance may be introduced to address that concern.

The proposed ordinance next heads to the Recommending Committee, a subcommittee of the City Council that will hash out the ordinance’s details and forward it to the full council.

Contact reporter Alan Choate at achoate@reviewjournal.com or 702-229-6435.

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