By: Mark Fitzgerald
Riverside, Calif., news-rack ordinance spurs lawsuit
by Mark Fitzgerald
The Black Voice News is suing its hometown of Riverside, Calif., over a news-rack ordinance it says is unconstitutional and being selectively enforced against the black-owned weekly.
Black Voice News editor and co-publisher Cheryl R. Brown says the paper never had a problem complying with the 4-year-old ordinance until it began aggressive coverage of a racially charged shooting by local police this spring.
The ordinance sets out a uniform design for stands and requires newspapers to apply for annual permits, which are issued without a fee.
“In April, the city started sending us letters saying we needed to take out $1 million worth of insurance on our news racks,” she says. “Then they started saying all the racks had to be bolted.”
Those requirements are not enforced against other papers which have racks in the city, the Black Voice News lawsuit alleges.
Negotiations between Mayor Ron Leveridge and co-publisher Hardy L. Brown seemed to be promising, but problems with the racks continued, Cheryl Brown says.
After slapping warning signs on the racks, the municipality in July impounded all the paper’s racks around the city, Cheryl Brown says. She adds the city acknowledges taking a dozen racks, which were returned a few days later, but says the paper had 26 racks in Riverside. The weekly has a total distribution of about 8,000, divided roughly in half between paid circulation and free distribution.
Publicity about the situation apparently encouraged vandals, who marred the racks with racist graffiti and blocked coin slots with washers and glues, Cheryl Brown says.
The lawsuit filed in early August in U.S. District Court in Riverside seeks to overturn the ordinance.
Richard Terzian, who is representing the city of Riverside in the lawsuit, says the ordinance “follows the pattern” of municipal news-rack ordinances around the country that have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“It is not being selectively enforced,” Terzian says. “The main problem with Black Voice News is they are not willing to provide the level of insurance required.” He says the ordinance demands proof of $500,000 liability insurance on racks. No other paper has joined Black Voice News in lawsuit.
“We’ve had no problem with it,” says Robert Perona, vice president of circulation for The Press-Enterprise in Riverside. Perona says the 162,000-circulation daily does not take out a separate liability policy for racks because they are covered under its umbrella insurance policy.
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(copyright: Editor & Publisher August 21, 1999) [Caption]