It’s said that “fools rush in where angels fear to tread” — so of course like a heat-seeking missile I have to go there.
Where I’m going is to the very sticky and sensitive issue (for us) of news racks.
You see, we — like all the papers and other sundry publications that have a street presence in Laguna Beach — have for years and years been placing our papers on news racks on the sidewalks.
These freestanding wire racks — not to be confused with the heavy, cemented coin racks for the dailies and some other papers — are easily moved, and many times they have “disappeared” or moved around, possibly by people trying to get a better spot for their own news rack, or possibly by folks who just like to rearrange the furniture. It sort of comes with the territory.
We’ve had racks moved across the street, for instance, or sometimes they just go away, to be replaced by a competitor’s rack.
Sometimes they appear to get up and walk a few feet farther from where we’d like them to be, or they switch places with another news rack. Who knows why? News racks don’t tell.
The news rack may be humble, but it is very important to the dissemination of publications; vital to the spread of news and information — and yes, advertising, the life blood of serial publishing.
So we keep a close watch on our vulnerable news racks and try to adhere to all the city rules and codes regarding them. Given the competition for space, we have to be on top of things.
The other day I got a call from the city of Laguna Beach telling us that we could no longer have racks in three prime locations in downtown Laguna.
City Manager Ken Frank had apparently ordered all the news racks removed from the No. 1 “prime” news spot in Laguna — Ocean Avenue next to the News Stand.
We also have to take away our rack in front of Golden Spoon on Broadway, and also the one on Glenneyre Street near the cigar shop, which had asked us just last year to please put a news rack there so the folks sitting in the shop to smoke could have something to read. They even called back several times when the rack was empty asking for more papers, which I hustled over personally.
But now we have to remove these racks because Frank wants it that way.
And he has every right to do this, according to the municipal code, which states that: “The director of municipal services [that’s Frank] or any person designated by same, may summarily remove any news rack where its installation, use or maintenance poses a danger to pedestrians or vehicles, creates a health or safety hazard for pedestrians or vehicles, or otherwise unreasonably interferes with the safe use of any public right-of-way or other public property.”
“Summarily” means, according to my Webster’s: “Prompt or informal; Done without delay or ceremony.” In other words, without warning.
Well, we did get some warning.
The city informed us that if we didn’t pick up our racks by a certain date, they would be disposed of.
We have retrieved our racks, but the last I looked, most of the others are still out there.
The reason for this is still unclear.
The city manager had evidently decided that, after years and years — and years — of having news racks standing on the sidewalk, next to a wall, at some of these locations, the racks now constitute a “health or safety hazard.”
I have to take his word for it. I certainly wouldn’t want to confront the city manager about such a sensitive issue. Maybe there was a toe-stubbing incident that didn’t make the police blotter. Who knows?
No one we have spoken to has given us a reason, just “The city manager says so.”
The municipal code also states that “the strong and competing interests of the public and of newspapers require a reasonable accommodation” [for newspapers] and that “it is not the intent to in any way discriminate against, regulate or interfere with the publication, circulation or dissemination of any newspapers.”
So we have to assume there was an overriding safety hazard associated with news racks at these locations; a hazard that had evidently only been uncovered recently, after many, many years of racks in those locations.
But if someone sued the city because they tripped over a news rack, you’d think we would have been among the first to know.
CINDY FRAZIER is city editor of the Coastline Pilot. She can be contacted at (949) 380-4321 or firstname.lastname@example.org.