February 22, 2006
By OSHRAT CARMIEL, Courant Staff Writer
Its goal is to reduce litter and vandalism
on Hartford streets. But a proposed city ordinance to regulate unsightly
newspaper boxes has drawn the concern of the local newspaper industry,
which argues that the rule is unconstitutional, not to mention unfriendly.
Representatives of Tribune Co., which
publishes The Courant, the Hartford Advocate and a local jobs circular,
appeared before the city council Tuesday to argue that the proposed
"news rack" ordinance, which could restrict news boxes
to certain locations in the city, violates the company's right to
distribute news to the community.
"It would remove 75 percent of
our racks in Hartford," said David Bralow, assistant general
counsel for Tribune.
Bralow asked to collaborate with the
city on drafting a different ordinance, one that would serve both
the city's need to curb litter and Tribune's interest in reaching
Hartford-area readers - 25 percent of whom, he said, buy their papers
at news boxes.
"Our people," Bralow said,
"really do want to be good citizens."
The proposed ordinance, modeled on
one passed in neighboring communities, is aimed at what city officials
say has become an urban scourge: multicolor newspaper boxes sprouting
haphazardly on street corners, their contents - everything from
paid and free newspapers to classified listings and rental guides
- spilling out into the street.
"They are probably the single
biggest cause of litter in the city," said Austin Jordan, executive
director of Hartford Guides Inc., who spoke in favor of the proposed
"I actually run after litter,"
said Hyacinth Yennie, chairwoman of the Maple Avenue Neighborhood
Revitalization Zone, "trying to pick up all the papers that
fall out of those boxes."
Most critics limited their complaints
to the plastic boxes filled with free circulars. They offered photo
evidence of toppled, deteriorating box carcasses from their neighborhood.
Just outside city hall, observers noted, are a jumble of boxes that
block access to the crosswalk.
"It's almost like a litmus test,"
said Allen A. Ambrose, president of the South Downtown Neighborhood
Revitalization Zone, which supports the measure.
"It's like if the city council
can do things for the people of Hartford, they can do this."
The proposed ordinance would:
Require news rack operators to obtain
a permit from the city department of public works for each news
rack location. The proposed fee is $12 per location for a three-year
permit. Those with permits would be required to carry at least
a $1 million insurance policy against personal injury claims.
Allow the city to limit news rack
locations. The ordinance prohibits any news rack from being within
5 feet of a driveway, fire hydrant or marked crosswalk. Within
a commercial district, a news box featuring the same publication
may not be within 500 feet of another on the same side of the
Require aesthetic upkeep of all
news boxes. The boxes could not have chipped paint or be rusty.
The windows may not be broken.
Set priority levels for those with
permits. Top priority will be given to newspapers that publish
five or more days a week and second priority will be given to
The ordinance, Bralow said, does something
a government law should never do: create regulations based on a
So while it favors The Courant on one
level, it takes away from the free weekly jobs circular that The
Courant also publishes, officials said.
"It makes our business more
difficult and unnecessarily so," said Jack W. Davis Jr., publisher
of The Courant, after the meeting. "We should be regarded as
a contributor to the quality of life. I'm disappointed that we're
being regarded as a detractor."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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