A passenger gets off the Burbank Bus on Empire Avenue at Buena Vista Avenue in February.

A passenger gets off the Burbank Bus on Empire Avenue at Buena Vista Avenue in February. (Times Community News / December 17, 2012)

In an attempt to generate extra revenue for Burbank’s cash-strapped transit programs, the City Council has signed off on a plan to plaster buses with advertisements.

The City Council last week directed officials to draft a two-year contract with mobile advertising services firm Titan Outdoors, just weeks after voting to pursue a ban on mobile advertising vehicles, which in recent months came in the form of brightly colored roving vans that were advertising topless maid and massage services.

The vans caused a stir among local residents and city officials who called them eyesores, prompting the planned crackdown. Considering that the City Council, though, appeared ready to cover city buses with ads just weeks later struck some residents last week as hypocritical.

“We have an issue with someone who owns their own vehicle doing it, but as long as were making a profit, we’ll put it on our vehicles?” David Piroli said. “Do we think it should be on the street or don’t we?”

Mayor Dave Golonski said the advertising vans were “particularly obnoxious” because they were parked, not because of the content.

“They’re taking up parking spaces, so we are losing valuable parking, essentially to provide an advertising space for a business,” Golonski said.

But Councilman David Gordon — the lone vote of dissent for the city bus proposal — said he felt the action could expose the city to litigation, particularly given its stance on the roving van ads.

“Should it turn out, for example, that we were to move ahead with this and our BurbankBus makes a significant revenue stream for the city, and yet we’ve legislated that other people that are trying to make a living on their vehicles are not allowed to do it in the city…I don’t think that’s necessarily a fair thing,” Gordon said.

With regards to potential litigation, Golonski assured the council and audience members that the ad van ban would be written such a way as to dodge potential lawsuits.

“I’m sure our city attorney will craft an agreement that keeps us out of litigation,” Golonski said. “I think this is foolish to turn down this potential opportunity.”

Without the income generated by the advertising, Burbank the city would be forced to slash transit services, he added. Under the terms of the proposed agreement, the city would pocket half the net revenue generated from the advertisements.

While Titan Outdoors refused to agree to a minimum revenue guarantee, it said Burbank could gain up to $144,000 from the program, although its more likely to see between $24,000 and $144,000, city officials said.

That the city’s 28-bus fleet only runs at peak morning hours and afternoon hours — a fact that turned off other marketing firms approached about providing the service — could hamper ad sales.

While council members Jess Talamantes and Emily Gabel-Luddy were hesitant to support the proposal without guaranteed revenue, Golonski said the alternative was zero revenue.

“What we’re talking about is a means to achieve some additional revenue to mitigate the ongoing structural deficit in our transportation funds that pay for these transit services,” he said.

-- Alene Tchekmedyian, Times Community News

Follow Alene Tchekmedyian on Google+ and on Twitter: @atchek.