Pink vans emblazoned with "Topless Maids" and the phone number 818-666-HUGE are generating complaints from Burbank residents and businesses who don't want the mobile billboards parked near their homes and stores.
“It doesn’t project the image of the city that we think we have,” said Joy Forbes, Burbank’s assistant city manager, who has been fielding complaints. “We have a small-town feel. These types of advertising vehicles don’t reflect the image of Burbank that most people have.”
Forbes said that since neighboring Los Angeles recently enacted city rules that barred mobile advertising, Burbank has seen an influx of ad vans, which park for days on end and advertise 1-hour massages and topless maid services.
The service does not have a permit to operate within the city of Burbank, Forbes said. Burbank city officials don’t know if the vans are representing a legitimate business in another city. Calls to the number advertised on the van on Thursday went to voicemail, which was full.
A DMV search of the van's license plate showed that it had once been owned by a gardening service, but was transferred to an individual in July.
NBC4 tracked down the vans and several other mobile advertisements to the parking lot of a Studio City massage and manicure studio, located across the street from a dance studio.
Owner Sami Ammari said he owns several businesses and employs hundreds of people. He said he's helping the economy and can't understand the negative reaction.
"I’m not advertising anything, it’s for transportation purposes in Burbank," Ammari told NBC4 over the phone.
He went on to say that because the ads are printed onto his vehicles, he's not violating the ordinance. However, the bright pink van advertising topless maids does have an attached sign.
Burbank is writing rules they hope will allow officials to effectively regulate mobile billboards, and the City Council could take up the issue before the end of the year. In the meantime, to combat the problem, the city has been enforcing a city municipal code that bars vehicles from parking on streets for more than 72 hours.
On Wednesday morning, a topless maid services van was issued a 72-hour warning note when it was seen by a city ombudsman parked on West Riverside Drive and West Olive Avenue.
But for the most part the vans have dodged the effort, vanishing just as they reach the 72-hour limit, Forbes said.“We’ve long have had codes that have limited businesses or trucks,” Forbes said. “We want to see if there’s a possibility of regulating these vehicles."
Forbes said city officials are being cautious in drafting a new ordinance -- trying to strike a balance. They want to impose rules that don't impinge on First Amendment rights. The city currently only has two active licenses for so-called "advertising vehicles" in Burbank, according to a report by the city's Community Development Department presented to the City Council in August.
In March, the city of Los Angeles approved an ordinance that allows the city to regulate the parking of mobile billboard advertising displays, either standing alone or attached to motor vehicles, on public streets.
L.A. officials put the ordinance into effect after they saw a surge in the number of vehicles being used as mobile billboards parked on city streets for days.
“Burbank is a very conservative city,” said Los Angeles Councilman Dennis Zine, who drafted the motion banning mobile billboards there. “I can understand why they’re upset with it.
“L.A. would be more than happy to assist Burbank in adopting an ordinance. We’ve been very aggressive.”
A stream of comments about the van hit Facebook on Thursday.
Freddie Pasch Goldberg said he saw the van in Valley Village.
"I had to stop and make sure what I was reading," he wrote. "Really?? Do we need this?"
Amaya Rivero wrote, "They make the city look ugly!!"
Christi LeAnn Stoll McLellan wrote, "Honestly I don't think it's any worse than anything a child can see on primetime television - or daytime tv for that matter.
"This actually looks like a joke - but who knows nowadays with the economy so bad."
"I'm amused," said Austin Shear, of Valley Village, in an interview with NBC4.
He spotted the van in Burbank this week. "Isn't kinda funny that they use 666 and HUGE? And how do we know it's going to be girls. Maybe it's two dudes who are topless."