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Victoria City Council to tighten business licensing, billboard rules

By Melissa Crowe
Aug. 19, 2012 at 3:19 a.m.
Updated Aug. 20, 2012 at 3:20 a.m.

The electronic billboard at the intersection of Mockingbird and Main Street shines through the darkness as the sun sets in Victoria. The digital, ever-changing advertisements have been popping up all over town, giving businesses new opportunities to advertise.

Taxi drivers and billboard owners are among several professionals who could face more stringent rules if Victoria City Council approves three code amendments.

Two ordinances call for more in-depth background checks on taxi and limo drivers, outdoor sales, pool halls, sexually oriented businesses and ambulances.

The other ordinance would place a cap on billboards within city limits.

City Councilman Emett Alvarez said he is most concerned about the billboard ordinance.

As the city grows and annexes land, the billboard industry will be restricted if the measure passes, he said.

"Unless you take down a billboard somewhere else, you can't put a billboard in an annexed area," he said.

He said the ordinance also restricts new billboard ventures from starting up.

"If you want to get in the business, you can't unless you buy-out another company," he said.

Gary Middleton, former mayor and owner of Middleton Outdoor Advertising, called the ordinance "overreaching" and said it is "not very American."

"They're eating away at property rights," he said. "If we had zoning, it's buyer beware. This council won't be a proponent of zoning if they want to get re-elected."

He said the ordinance would be detrimental to his business and would create a monopoly for his competition.

"You'd never be able to grow your company beyond where you are when it passes," he said. "No other company could come to town."

He said the council should focus on providing services to its taxpayers, rather than regulating and limiting free enterprise.

Councilman Tom Halepaska said he has "mixed emotions" about the billboard ordinance.

"It might be good for Victoria-proper, but part of our city limits extend to U.S. Highway 59," he said. "Some businesses, motels and gas stations live or die by those signs."

He said the council's objective should be "above all, do no harm."

Councilman David Hagan said in light of the proliferation of electronic billboards, part of his attention is on road safety.

"There's concern we're becoming Billboard USA in Victoria," he said.

Hagan said the other city code amendments are prudent.

"It's a proactive measure to protect the citizenry," Hagan said.

Brian Fontaine, owner of Affordable Taxi Service, brought the cab issue to City Council in March, and worked with City Attorney Thomas Gwosdz on identifying updates to the existing ordinance.

The purpose is to help people know their taxi driver is safe, Fontaine said. He said it is a trust issue.

That amendment requires deeper background checks by the police department and updates requirements for insurance and state statutes.

In the background check, a driver would not be permitted if he or she has had a criminal conviction in five years. Previously, the limit was three years.

Fontaine said without the updated ordinance, potential exists for someone to abuse the taxi industry.

He wants the city to require drivers to post their permits inside the cab.

"Victoria is growing, and there is more and more need for taxi service," Fontaine said. "We want to make sure we're a safe industry and don't want to see anybody abuse it and give the industry a bad name."

Alvarez said he supports the upgrades to the ordinances.

"It's such a specific ordinance, I don't see any drawbacks," he said. "But I haven't heard from the business community."

Cesar Fernandez, owner of Cesar's Taxi and Limousine, said the updates are justified, but worried about the wait for licenses to be issued.

"It's bittersweet," he said. "It will take longer to get a driver in a car, but they're making sure that I get a better driver and a safer person to drive people home."

Meanwhile, Francisco Cordova, manager of Sisco's Taxi, initially said he felt targeted by the changes.

When Sisco's Taxi opened, Cordova drove a Dodge Charger with a magnetic sign.

Since then, he switched to a minivan with a permanently affixed sign.

"If you're not doing it right, why are you doing it?" he asked.

Ultimately, he said the amendment "makes a lot of sense."

"I'm playing by the book and I think everybody should also," he said.

Councilwoman Josephine Soliz is expected to be absent from the meeting.

Phone calls to Councilmen Paul Polasek and Joe Truman were not returned Friday.



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