Multiple suits racked up in San Francisco p.10

By: M.L. Stein In an increasingly contentious battle, publishers have filed two separate lawsuits against the city of San Francisco to block the installation of multiple news racks to replace the single-paper fixtures the administration considers a street blight.
In the first action, seven newspapers are seeking a permanent injunction to stop the city from implementing an ordinance approving new, pedestal-mounted racks, terming the measure an "unconstitutional prior re-straint vesting unfettered discretion in the Director of the Department of Public Works."
Joining in the suit are the San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today, The New York Times, San Jose Mercury News, Los Angeles Times, and SF Weekly. The second suit by the alternative San Francisco monthly, SF Frontlines, charges the city with not only a First Amendment violation but also a breach of the Sherman and Clayton antitrust acts.
San Francisco's Board of Supervisors in late December approved a 20-year contract with the New York-based Adshel Corp. to replace 12,000 free-standing racks with about 1,000 pedmounts containing up to 20 windows for publications.
The deal would cost the city nothing, but 450 of the mounts would display outside commercial advertising whose revenue would go to Adshel in the first five years. After that, the company would pay San Francisco 5% of its gross annual advertising income exceeding $2 million and maintain the equipment. Publications would be charged a yearly fee of $30 for each slot they use.
Steven Falk, president of the San Francisco Newspaper Agency, the business arm of the Examiner and Chronicle, asserts that the supervisors' action "gives unbridled power and discretion to the DPW to determine how and where newspapers are sold. For us, pedmounts take away individual marketing at the point of sale." Referring to the suit, he adds, "We may be strange bedfellows, but if we don't stop this here, newspapers all over the country will face the same problem."
Bruce B. Brugmann, editor and publisher of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, a bitter opponent of the pedmounts, but not a party to the suit, accuses the supervisors and Mayor Willie Brown of "putting together the most punishing, appalling restriction on newspaper racks of any city in the country. This great liberal city with its great liberal tradition is saying that it hates newspapers and is going to punish them for doing nothing more than criticizing the mayor and city hall. Brown seems to think he is the only mayor in America who's ever been criticized by the press."
The Bay Guardian, which supported Brown in his election, has since lambasted him on a number of issues. Brugmann explains that the Bay Guardian is not a party to the suit because they were not invited to join the coalition for what he believes were competitive reasons.
Brown's media spokesman, Ron Vinson, denies the mayor is retaliating against newspapers for their blasts at him, saying: "The [pedmounts] are needed for uniformity in our streets. They are esthetic and functional. It's not a grudge. If we all held grudges, we wouldn't get anything done."
There is fierce objection to pedmount advertising. Falk complains the uniform racks represent a "conflict of interest between serving the public and placing the racks where they will raise the most
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?(copyright: Editor & Publisher January 23, 1999) [Caption]


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