A Compromise Is In The Works Over Downtown Newsracks.
August 24, 2006
By MEIR RINDE, Hartford Advocate Staff Writer
A proposed law that would banish Hartford Advocate newsracks from downtown sidewalks appears headed for a compromise that would lessen the impact on the Advocate, Courant , and other publications.
The city’s top attorney, John Rose, and officials from Tribune Company, which owns the Advocate and Courant , said they had “positive” discussions of possible changes in the law during a meeting on Monday before a City Council hearing on the proposal.
Echoing Tribune arguments that the law would punish all publications for problems with a few, Rose said the ordinance was not intended to target “legitimate newspapers” that maintain their racks. Some racks that city beautification advocates and neighborhood activists have complained about were installed by defunct companies that abandoned their racks, or were not being closely monitored.
“The problem is almost certainly not the Hartford Courant boxes,” Rose said after the hearing. “It’s the rogue boxes that have accumulated to an incredible level, without any regulation.”
Rose said he was prepared to drop a requirement of metal newsboxes, allowing the Advocate and other publications to continue using plastic boxes, as long as they are weighted to prevent them from toppling and are not abandoned. He also said under a new scheme of fees and insurance requirements the issue of problem racks “will solve itself.”
The Tribune complained mainly about detailed new restrictions on rack locations. Circulation staffers planned to walk the downtown business district with Rose’s staff this week to show how rules barring newsracks near bus stops, driveways, crosswalks, and landscaped areas, and banning a publication’s racks within 250 feet of each other, would force the company to remove most of its racks.
The Tribune calculated that all but two of the Advocate ´s 78 downtown racks would have to be removed under the current proposal. The Courant would have to remove 65 percent of its 422 racks, and the Tribune-owned advertiser Jobs4U would have to remove 80 percent of its 121 racks, the company said.
Courant publisher Jack Davis said he supported a law requiring companies to keep newsracks in good condition and to respond to problems such as safety hazards and the accumulation of trash. But he also told council members at the hearing that the Courant is a major employer in Hartford, and urged them not to approve rules that would hurt the company or limit access to its publications.
“Don’t make it harder for the Hartford Courant , the Hartford Advocate and Jobs4U to distribute their worthwhile information on the streets of Hartford,” Davis said.
The city also says chaining newsracks to utility poles could damage them. The Tribune proposed allowing rubberized chains.
Rose and Councilman Robert Painter said they had received a number of calls from residents about newsracks since the Advocate published an Aug. 10 article on the topic that included their office phone numbers. Rose said callers split about 50-50 between urging the city to “tear them all down” and wanting the Advocate boxes to be preserved.
City Council President John Bazzano said the issue should be resolved in time for a Sept. 25 council vote. The ordinance was already the subject of a previous hearing in February.
“This issue has been with us for far too long,” Bazzano said. “I hope both parties can use common sense and compromise.”