Wednesday, August 20, 2008

California city removes free paper's racks

In the 1960s, the free speech movement's heart and soul was in San Francisco and surrounding Bay Area communities like Berkeley. 

Things have changed, however. On Aug. 13th, the city of Palo Alto hauled away 27 newsracks of a new free daily newspaper, the Daily Post. The city contends the newspaper violated its 1998 newsrack ordinance, which apparently limits the number of spaces newspapers can have in Palo Alto's downtown area. 

Palo Alto's downtown is dominated by University Avenue, a Rodeo Drive-like shopping destination. 

The city regulates the newsracks in the area and forces them to use modular boxes. But when the Post asked for spaces in these racks, the city dragged its feet. So the paper's publishers, Jim Pavelich and Dave Price (who started the Palo Alto Daily News in 1995 and sold it for $25 million to Knight Ridder in 2005), decided to put free-standing racks throughout the downtown area in defiance of the ordinance -- or at least until the city could give them spaces.

The city might have even looked the other way until it fixed its ordinane except for the phone calls it got from the politically connected publisher of a weekly newspaper — Palo Alto's mayor is a lawyer whose firm represents the weekly — who demanded the removal of the Post's racks. 

In a horrendous move, city workers grabbed the Post's newsracks off the streets and put them into a flatbed truck. 

Within hours, however, the Post put racks back on the street. But this time Editor and Co-Publisher Dave Price vowed that if the city touched the racks again, they would have to arrest him first and throw him in jail. 

He even posed for this photo on top of a space where one of his racks was removed, but other free-standing racks were allowed to stay. The incident blew up into a major controversy and a day later, the city offered the Post roughly the same number of racks as its competitors. The Post printed a story on Monday, Aug. 18, saying the controversy was over.