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Group Takes It to the Street to Erase News Rack Blight

New rules would make it easier to navigate sidewalks as well as get on and off buses.

March 27, 2004|Kerry Morrison and David Burg

Travel to cities such as Santa Barbara, Beverly Hills or Culver City and you'll see tasteful sidewalk amenities such as benches, bike racks and news racks. In these communities, the sidewalk landscape is pleasing to the eye and one gains a sense that there is order in the city.

In Los Angeles, we are moving toward reclaiming this order within our city limits. The City Council is scheduled next week to discuss a proposed ordinance that would eliminate the physical and visual blight that the proliferation of news racks has wrought on our sidewalks. It's infuriating to walk a two-block stretch of Ventura Boulevard near Laurel Canyon Boulevard and see more than 160 news racks of every size and color.

Until recently, the public, though upset about news rack blight, was fragmented and outmaneuvered, and publishers had their way. But the Coalition for L.A.'s Enforcement Applied to Newsracks, or CLEAN, is helping to change this.

CLEAN's origins date back to April 2003, after the Board of Public Works approved a publishers-backed draft ordinance on news racks. Many in the community were aghast over the one-sided proposal. Among a host of unacceptable provisions were the draft's call for groups of eight news racks in a row and a clause to protect many existing news racks.

In June 2003, the City Council's Public Works Committee concurred with community concerns and tossed out the draft. City staff was directed to dust off and amend L.A.'s existing, court-tested news rack ordinance, originally drafted in 1972. The existing ordinance had "good bones," as they say in Hollywood, but had not been enforced for years.

Council member Greig Smith assumed the helm of the Public Works Committee last July 1 and has shepherded a new draft ordinance that will accomplish much of what the CLEAN coalition has worked to achieve while preserving the legitimate rights of publishers to use the public right-of-way to dispense information. The Public Works Committee in February finished the draft that the full council will take up for consideration.

If it is adopted, public safety will be enhanced because the ordinance regulates the location of news racks and will make sidewalks and bus stops easier to navigate.

News racks would no longer block the view of our historic buildings. Sidewalks will be reclaimed because of limits on news rack groups (four in a row), on how many are permitted on a typical block and on spacing between groups.

Perhaps most important is the requirement that all news racks in Los Angeles be of a standard dimension and color. Over a phase-in period that could last up to five years, all news racks in the city will be ivy green.

More than 100 neighborhood councils, chambers of commerce, business improvement districts, homeowner associations and prominent citizens jumped onto the CLEAN bandwagon and helped change news rack politics. And the future now looks cleaner.

Kerry Morrison is executive director of the Hollywood Entertainment District Property Owners Assn. and David Burg is president of the Studio City Neighborhood Council. Both are members of CLEAN.

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