The man whose hot pink “topless maid service” van has sparked an outcry from residents and business owners in Burbank is suing the city of Los Angeles over a law that bars his “mobile ads” from parking on city streets.
Sami Ammari, who owns cleaning and massage services in L.A., claims the city is violating his First Amendment rights.
He accuses the city of wrongfully impounding his van earlier this year when he says it was parked legally near his business on Laurel Canyon Boulevard in Studio City, according to the federal complaint filed on May 29 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.
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L.A.’s ban forced Ammari to move his vans -- emblazoned with "Topless Maids" and the phone number 818-666-HUGE -- into other neighborhoods, said Ammari’s attorney, George Wallace.
Complaints of them being seen parked in Burbank recently have prompted officials to begin studying ways they can prohibit them.
“L.A. is giving him so much heat,” Wallace said. “Now Burbank is definitely on my radar. That seems to be the next place where Sami’s likely to run into a direct confrontation on this.”
Ammari said he has been unfairly targeted by L.A. City Councilman Paul Krekorian, in whose district Ammari has his businesses, and faces thousands of dollars in fines.
He struck back at the councilman, putting up a large sign near his Thai massage business showing a picture of Krekorian wearing a fez hat with the words “THE MONKEY” below his picture.
A second sign has the words “THE CLOWN” under a picture of state Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Sherman Oaks, the sponsor of a statewide law that allows cities to adopt their own measures against mobile billboards.
The signs have been parked in the lot of Ammari's business for about four months, since shortly after the city adopted the ban, said a Krekorian spokesman.
Krekorian said the attack comes with the territory. He said he has concerns over the continuing “blight” that his constituents have to deal with from these “obnoxious advertisements.”
“There are a handful of operators who continue to want to thumb their nose at my constituents and operate how they want. It’s childish and adolescent,” he said. “They’re distractions to drivers, a threat to public safety and they take up valuable parking spaces that legitimate businesses need."
Blumenfield said in a statement when Gov. Jerry Brown signed the mobile billboard ban into law in September that the legislation would help L.A. "shut down the remaining mobile billboard operators who distort the law and tie up the city with frivolous lawsuits.
"People are tired of this game,” he said in a statement.
Wallace said he’s planning to file in the next two weeks a request for a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the L.A. ordinance. It could be a month before the issue’s heard in court, Wallace said.
While Burbank officials consider tougher measures, they have been enforcing a municipal 72-hour parking rule to try to keep Ammari’s ads out of their city, which he’s been able to get around by moving his vehicles every 72 hours.
Wallace has put Burbank on notice.
“If they’re targeting Sami’s ads and messages similar to that, they’re really walking into a minefield of First Amendment issues,” he said.
Burbank Assistant City Manager Joy Forbes, who's been fielding complaints, told NBC4 last week that the city will carefully consider before the year’s out an ordinance that is effective but fair.
“We want it to hold up in court,” she said.