SALT LAKE CITY — Supporters of electronic billboards came out in full force at a City Council meeting this week to protect the structures that Mayor Ralph Becker wants banned.

Representatives of YESCO, a Utah-based electronic sign company, and Reagan Outdoor Advertising, as well as small business owners and city residents, told the City Council that approving zoning changes to ban electronic billboards would be doing both Salt Lake businesses and its citizens a disservice.

Becker has asked the City Council to ban electronic billboards, as well as prevent existing roadside advertising from converting to ads with changing images and flashing lights.

"The image of the city should not be that of Las Vegas," Salt Lake City community and economic development director Frank Gray has said.

In addition to a poor aesthetic, city leaders have cited concerns for drivers' safety as justification for banning electronic billboards. The billboards typically show one of a series of advertisements every eight seconds.

At the City Council meeting, where city representatives listened to public comment but didn't vote on the mayor's proposal, YESCO representative Jeff Young cited a Virginia Tech study that found no relationship between traffic accidents and electronic billboards. Young also cited a 2005 Arbitron study that found four out of five residents thought electronic billboards filled an important public service.

Scout executive Rick Barnes of the Great Salt Lake Council said that without electronic billboards, the Scouts would not have been as successful in spreading the word about their recent food drive, which brought in more than 750,000 pounds of food for people in need.

"This is important to us to reach out to the community," he said.

Barnes and others said electronic billboards are convenient advertising vehicles because they can be updated immediately, rather than requiring a lead time of multiple weeks required by many traditional sign companies.

Todd Cella, owner of basement finishing company Finished For 14, said electronic billboards are the only way he could have grown his start-up business because of its relatively low cost. "I know the importance of advertising in this format," he said.

Not only are billboards important for small businesses and non-profit organizations, supporters said, they are also "critical" to helping rescue abducted children.

Paul Murphy, Utah AMBER Alert coordinator, said that instead of banning electronic billboards, "we should actually have more electronic billboards" to help broadcast AMBER Alerts.

Avenues resident Christian Fonnesbeck was one of only a few who spoke in support of banning the billboards. He said he is opposed to all billboards, and called electronic billboards particularly offensive.