Saturday, August 2, 2008

SF Mayor Newsom to double newsrack fees

On the same day the Chronicle reported that it is cutting 125 jobs (see item above), it reports that publishers in San Francisco are furious over a proposal by Mayor Gavin Newsom to double newsrack fees from $30 to $60 a year, effective Aug. 30. Alex Popovics, owner of San Francisco Bay Distributors, said the smaller publications he provides distribution services for are likely to reduce their presence in the city due to cost. Small papers aren't alone in making this complaint: Lawyers representing several newspapers, including the Chron and USA Today, argue the higher fees could have a chilling effect on First Amendment rights by creating a financial barrier to the dissemination of news.

San Francisco has an unusual newsrack program, where the green modular pedestal racks that the city wants all over town are owned by Clear Channel Outdoor — a competitor in the advertising arena to newspapers. Clear Channel made a deal with former Mayor Willie Brown to pay for the installation and maintenance of the new newsracks in return for the right to place large billboards on the back of the racks. San Francisco voters, in a 2002 referendum, passed Proposition G to stop new billboards from going up. But a loophole allows them on city property, including the new newsracks the city is installing.

The number of pedestal racks has grown from about 200 to more than 550 in just the past year and a half. The city plans to have 1,000 pedestal-style racks installed by 2013.

To keep up with the increase in the new city racks, more money is needed for news-rack program managers, sidewalk inspectors and engineers, said Christine Falvey, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Works.

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