Issue 206, April 25, 2000  
 
 
 

Beware: City Trying To Limit
News Racks

By Stephen M. Lawton

Have you picked up your latest copy of MicroTimes? Of course you did — you're reading it right now. But if you live or work in the City of San Francisco, finding MicroTimes, along with a number of other newspapers and magazines, could become much more difficult in the future.
      Once again San Francisco is toying with an idea that strikes at the very heart of the First Amendment. The proponents of the bid to install pedestal-based news racks with limited slots for publications claim they will clear the streets of unsightly racks and give pedestrians more room to walk. They also claim this does not limit freedom of speech. How can you say you support freedom of speech when you limit the number of voices that can be heard?
      Proponents of this proposal say they will remove eyesores from the city streets. Maybe so, but at what cost? Not all publications will be guaranteed slots to hold their papers. Sure, readers need access to the Chronicle and Examiner, but what about the other publications that serve the residents and businesses of the city; publications like MicroTimes.
      The proposal states the city-approved pedestals will have reserved spots for publications that publish more often than bi-weekly. They have all kinds of proposals concerning how the city will designate which publications get access to the pedestals — all in wonderful legalese. The bottom line, however, is that the magazines vying for slots will have to go through a lottery. The chances of winning: About one in 50. Is it unthinkable for a magazine or newspaper that serves this market to be completely shut out of this lottery? When was the last time you hit the jackpot in the Lotto?
      This proposal means publishers will no longer have the ability to serve their San Francisco readers the way they see fit. It means your voice — the voice of the reader — might not be heard in your own community.
      Why is this important to readers in Milpitas or Mission Viejo? Because, good friends, you might be next! This is one of those times. This is one of those issues. This is the time to put pen to paper and fingers to keyboards and write to your city council and board of supervisors to protest the actions being considered in San Francisco. Even if you don't live here, this is a first amendment right that must be protected.
      You need to take action now. You can send e-mail to the San Francisco's supervisors at board_of_supervisors@ci.sf.ca.us. Tom Ammiano is the board president; you can reach him directly at Tom_Ammiano@ci.sf.ca.us. The San Francisco Department of Public Works (www.sfdpw.com) is holding public hearings on this proposal. According to the DPW's Web site, the contact for the News Rack Advisory Committee is Committee Chair Daniel Brugmann, who can be reached at (415) 554-6917. The Web site also offers this e-mail address: info@sfdpw.com.
      Now's the time to act, people. If you wait, your city could be next.

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