City says ‘Marina Times’ doesn’t have historic presence in Marina
By Susan Dyer Reynolds
As the owner of two San Francisco publications, I am all for the “big green monsters” – those rectangular pedmounts the city wants to replace disparate independent news racks with to clean up the clutter.
News racks are prohibitively expensive, so it’s tough for small, independent newspapers to buy them, have them branded, get them out, keep them filled, and maintain them. When pedmounts first appeared, they seemed like a good way to even the playing field, giving small publications a relatively inexpensive way to reach more readers alongside behemoths like the San Francisco Chronicle and SF Weekly. But recently Grace Moore, the news rack program coordinator for the Department of Public Works (DPW), informed me that the Marina Times would occupy only two spaces in the 19 pedmounts soon to be installed on Chestnut Street because the paper is not “historically present” in the neighborhood.
Next year, the Marina Times will celebrate 25 years as the neighborhood newspaper of the Marina District, and we couldn’t be prouder. We distribute door-to-door each month, and are also available at local businesses including the UPS Store, Coffee Roastery, Postal Chase, and City Tavern, as well as the Marina branch of the San Francisco Public Library. Our sister publication, Northside San Francisco, is distributed the same way, as well as through news racks.
Moore informed me that Northside S.F., which debuted in 2004, was “historically present” on Chestnut Street and would be grandfathered in to the pedmounts. We were welcome, she said, to swap out the Marina Times for some of those spaces and also to enter the lottery for publications that do not have historic presence. While I still wasn’t happy, I figured with 19 pedmounts we had a decent shot, but I was wrong. As it turns out, the way the DPW defines “historic presence” is based on the number of independent racks they count during their initial survey. Since Northside S.F. has seven racks on Chestnut Street, we were grandfathered in to only the seven pedmounts going into those locations. The Marina Times was thrown into the lottery with dozens of publications from all over the country, and we came up with just two spaces, one at Divisadero and one at Mallorca.
Ironically, the way to get into the pedmounts is to have as many independent racks as possible. Newspapers like the Chronicle, which has racks on every corner, get into every pedmount. Those porn rags, the ones with names like Boobs and Jugs, are also granted space because they, too, have racks everywhere. And commercial publications like OpenExchange, The Learning Annex, and numerous real estate sales guides also fill up the slots. Why, I asked Moore, was having a rack considered more “historically present” than distributing door-to-door for over two decades? And if the DPW’s goal is to eliminate the many independent racks “littering” the streets, why are they rewarding the publications that litter the most? But most important, shouldn’t the DPW consider what publications are historically relevant to the neighborhoods rather than simply present?
There are also First Amendment rights to consider. In the 1988 case City of Lakewood v. Plain Dealer Publishing Co., the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a city ordinance that gave the mayor the power to determine where publishers could place news racks because the provision gave the mayor “unfettered discretion” to issue permits to certain newspapers and to deny permits to others, which the high court found unacceptable under the First Amendment. There is a similar thing happening with San Francisco’s pedmount program – the DPW has unfettered discretion for granting spaces in their racks based on what they consider historic presence: having an independent rack at the location where the pedmount will be installed. But why are our First Amendment rights less valid than, say, the publisher of the Contra Costa Times, because they have a rack on the southeast corner of Steiner and Chestnut Streets and we don’t? The pedmount program obviously favors large publications that can afford to have dozens of news racks on every street over small, independent publications that can’t afford the same luxury, and it has also arbitrarily decided that any form of historic presence other than independent racks doesn’t count.
Fortunately, I’m not the only one concerned about the way pedmount spaces are doled out: District 2 Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier has called for a hearing on the subject with the City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee of the Board of Supervisors. In the meantime, if you think the Marina Times is “historically present” in the Marina, please give Grace Moore a call at 415-554-5892 and let her know.