Fallacy No. 2: The newsrack legislation, sponsored by Board of Supervisors Chairman/free press stalwart Barbara Kaufman, has been reviewed by big-time lawyers and does not raise constitutional questions.
We've talked to enough First Amendment experts to know a big messy lawsuit is almost certain if this legislation passes.
One reason why: The pedmount ordinance would allocate space in the new centralized newsracks by frequency of publication. Meaning that, if there isn't room for everyone in one of the racks, monthly publications will be kicked out first. Next, the biweeklies will be tossed. Then the weeklies ....
So, Mr. Mayor and Madame Chairman, tell us: When, exactly, was the First Amendment to the Constitution changed, making the speech contained in daily newspapers more important than the speech in monthly magazines? And if it hasn't changed, well ....
Third Phony Newsrack Argument: Centralized newsracks -- big, boxy, uniform, militarily ugly, neutrally colored, advertising-covered monuments to June Cleaver's aesthetic tastes -- are a solution to the "blight" and "danger" created by free-standing newsracks.
We don't believe newsracks can be classified as a significant public danger, based on police or any other statistics. We don't think we need to explain our feelings any further on the blight notion. (Just take a look at the picture accompanying this column. Jeez.)
But we do need to explain what's really going on here, because what's going on has nothing to do with a "newsrack problem" in San Francisco -- because there isn't one. An existing law already allows the city to get rid of ill-maintained newsracks. This new Willie Brown newsrack law has almost nothing to do with newsracks, and, we think, almost everything to do with monetary opportunities for Willie Brown's buddies.
Yes, folks, it's just another city grease pot.
You see, there's this French company, JC Decaux, that does street furniture. Willie Brown and JC Decaux are tight. JC Decaux has flown Willie to France to party. Willie likes to party. JC Decaux has hired Willie's old buddy and aide, Billy Rutland, as a lobbyist. Decaux paid Billy Boy $67,000 last year to lobby the city on street furniture.
Now, JC Decaux wants to build a whole bunch of pedestal-mounted newsracks, and sell advertising for the back of them, because JC Decaux thinks it can make a grease pot full of money doing this. The mayor thinks this is a good idea, because he and Billy Boy think that what's good for JC Decaux is good for San Francisco.
And if this were just another greasy deal to throw business to mayoral buddies, it wouldn't be worth an entire column. But the newsrack ordinance will have a huge impact on all publications that use newsracks as their primary method of circulation -- and that means the new law will have a goodly impact on your ability to read what you want.
The large daily newspapers won't be hurt much, because most of their circulation is by subscription. Besides, the dailies apparently are going to get into the pedmount-building business, creating an income stream out of Willie Brown's attack on the lesser press.
The largest of the weeklies will take a real financial blow if Willie Brown's newsrack ordinance passes, but they probably will survive. Trials suggest that the pedestal-mounted newsracks will cut distribution rates from 30 to 50 percent for free distribution papers, such as the Weekly and the Guardian. If passed, then, the newsrack ordinance would render the thousands of individual newsracks each of these papers owns utterly worthless, cut circulation rates, harm and eventually chase away some advertisers, and ultimately reduce revenues at the papers. But the Weekly and the Guardian are established publications, with well-known brand names and loyal readerships. They will hurt, but survive.
If Willie Brown's newsrack law passes, then, the publications that will really take it in the neck -- the ones that may well not survive -- are the small, loud, quirky, individual, irreverent publications. The papers that come out once a month, or irregularly. The papers that come out only because a small group of people is dying to have its say on the events of the day.
If Willie Brown's newsrack law passes, JC Decaux will make a lot of money, and the people who operate most directly in concert with the intent of the First Amendment will go out of business, and into a silence that diminishes, in a very real and permanent sense, the very idea of San Francisco, California.
George Cothran (gcothran@SFWEEKLY.COM) AND JOHN MECKLIN (JMECKLIN@SFWEEKLY.COM) WELCOME TIPS, SUGGESTIONS, INNUENDO, AND COMPLAINTS. THEY CAN BE REACHED AT SF WEEKLY, ATTNo The Grid, 185 Berry, Suite 3800, San Francisco,
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