The sign isn’t hard to miss. It’s a block away from on Laurel Canyon Boulevard right next to
It has wearing a fez and “Paul Krekorian The Monkey” printed on it. Then, it says (misspelling included): “The Money Connection, Only If The Public New.” (Also, State Assembly member Bob Blumenfield is pictured in a party hat with “The Clown” plastered under him.)
On the other side it features both politicians and says, “Wanted for Civil Rights Violations.”
So, what’s the beef? Why is it out there on the street?
Across Laurel Canyon from those signs is the (you’ve seen those signs around town, too: “$40 Massage” and “Full Body Scrub $29”) and one of the presidents of the company is Sam Ammari, a big man with a normally soft-spoken voice—until he talks about his signs.
“I have tried to follow every regulation they have thrown at me—the state rules, the city rules, and I feel like they’re just harassing me,” Ammari told Studio City Patch. "It's unfair and I've had enough of it."
Earlier this week, one of his trucks with a sign bolted to it was impounded. He said he has 12 other vehicles that are at the impound yard, and he is involved in two federal lawsuits trying to protect the rights to keep the mobile signs.
The signs cost as much as $4,000 to alter to meet new regulations. He has the signs bolted and welded to the trucks. He also has wrap-around advertisements on the vans.
Ammari said he was approached to donate $50,000 to his campaign as a businessman. When he refused, he said he felt he was being targeted by city officials and the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety.
“That hasn't happened—no one in the councilmember’s office, nor anyone associated with it, has ever targeted Mr. Ammari or his business,” said Krekorian’s Communications Director Jeremy Oberstein. “Those allegations are completely false.”
Krekorian himself seemed to take the signs rather lightly, laughing about the photo of him with the fez on. The signs are not far from the house he just moved to in Studio City.
“I’m just responding to the many complaints I’ve received over the years about these unsightly signs in their neighborhood,” he told Patch. Because he and Blumenfield are at the forefront of legislation to stop the mobile billboards, he expected Ammari and others to exercise their Freedom of Speech. And, Krekorian mentioned it in this week's newsletter.
“For years, Valley residents were frustrated by the proliferation of 'mobile billboards'—those unsightly trailers bearing large and usually garish advertising signs that could be found on virtually every major boulevard,” the newsletter said. “These trailers made neighborhoods appear blighted, endangered traffic safety and took up valuable parking spaces that our small business owners depended upon.”
The new law banning mobile billboards passed last year already eradicated most of the signs—and Ammari is one of the last holdouts.
"One of the things that makes our country great is our right to speak freely and to criticize our government and the people we elect," Krekorian said. "But political attacks against me will never deter me from my continuing efforts to protect our neighborhoods and stamp out mobile billboards."
Those billboards have resulted in a stream of persistent complaints coming to the Studio City Neighborhood Council. But Ammari said he gets many people thanking him and congratulating him for taking a stand.
On a recent day when one of his trucks was being impounded, a local person he didn’t know tried to stop the tow-away and Ammari said four people shook his hands when he showed up at the scene. The next day, his business at the spa had 57 people walking in. The impounding could be good for his business, he laughs.
Who is Ammari? His family has owned property in Studio City for 22 years. They own car wash and spa businesses throughout the area. He describes himself as a church-going man with two adopted children who sings to the elderly at a local nursing home in his spare time.
His billboards get parked in Torrance, Long Beach, Burbank, Glendale, Hollywood, West Hollywood, San Bernardino and West Los Angeles. Most of his problems and complaints, though, occur in Studio City.
“I don’t park them on busy streets [where there are no parking spaces],” Ammari said. “On the Westside on Sepulveda [Boulevard] there’s always a space.”
He was parking his Thai Spa sign on the other end of Studio City in front of for a while on Ventura Boulevard in front of a business that has its own spa. He said they have been cooperative and he has referred employees there. In the meantime, the parking spaces in front of the hotel have become metered so his trucks are no longer there.
Ammari said he moves the billboards every two days, according to law, and he has the trucks washed regularly, “because I don’t want them to look dirty.”
Neighborhood Councilmember Ron Taylor, a longtime resident, said, “We have seen a proliferation of these billboards around our neighborhood more in recent years. These were not around for 22 years. They are big and ugly.”
But, apparently they work.
“I wouldn’t be putting them up if they didn’t help business,” Ammari said.
His business is a quiet dark place with Asian décor. People are given foot baths, there’s a steam room, and private massage rooms in the back.
Famous clients in the past have included , and One employee does hair extensions for Cher, and Janie, who has worked at the spa for seven years, does massages for famous athletes.
“I run a clean establishment,” Ammari said. “I am being illegally harassed. The parking fines in Los Angeles are among the most expensive in the country. It is just not fair.”
More than half of the times his trucks get impounded, he goes to court and is told they were improperly taken off the streets. That proves he is right, he said.
So, in the meantime, Ammari said he plans to keep his moving advertisements, and comply with the rules. He will continue to keep up the anti-Krekorian billboards.
“Krekorian is monkeying around with me, so that is why we have this up,” Ammari said. “It is not racist or anything like that, my wife is Armenian [like Krekorian] after all.”
To report an illegal mobile billboard, contact the Dept. of Transportation's Parking Enforcement Division at (818) 752-5100 or Krekorian’s office at (818) 755-7676. You may also take a photo of the offending billboard and submit it to Krekorian’s office through Twitter or by email at Councilmember.Krekorian@lacity.org or on his Ask Paul column.