Public Comment

Berkeley’s War On Newsracks

By Michael Katz
Wednesday April 08, 2009 - 07:05:00 PM

After puzzling over the “newsrack correction notices” littering downtown, I finally extracted copies of last week’s East Bay Express and Daily Planet, where I learned the full story of the city’s War on Newsracks. 

Yikes. Apparently some city staff members—notably, one Code Enforcement Supervisor Gregory Daniel—are determined that we make fools of ourselves all over again. I urge you all to stop this from happening. 

The city manager clearly has the administrative (“ministerial”) authority to indefinitely suspend Mr. Daniel’s sudden threats against newsrack owners. I urge City Manager Kamlarz to exercise that authority immediately. The underlying ordinance has apparently been on the books for 10 years, without ever being enforced. So there’s clearly no hurry to begin enforcement. 

As for the elusive ordinance itself, the City Council has the authority to permanently repeal it. I urge them to do so promptly. Berkeley survived fine without a Nice Newsracks Ordinance until 1999, and we’ve survived another 10 years without its ever being enforced. This law’s very existence seems to invite highly selective enforcement, at best. At worst, it threatens to bankrupt struggling publishers, and to thoroughly humiliate the city. Can we please just get rid of it? 

The Express article wasn’t shy about asking two questions that are probably on the minds of the council’s other constituents: With newspapers, large and small, either closing or threatened, why is Berkeley staff suddenly choosing now to add to their woes? And, for a city whose founding and modern identities were each forged around the free exchange of ideas, what is the logic of squeezing publishers? 

To those two, I’ll add two more questions: When did a newsrack—in whatever state of disrepair—ever harm anyone? And with an economic disaster trickling down to Berkeley households—not to mention people without roofs over their heads—what nitwit decided that beautifying newsracks should suddenly become a priority for city staff? 

If anyone can make a case that the city should be wasting time on this nonsense, then funds or in-kind resources should be flowing in the exact opposite direction. Instead of fining publishers who have already become the victims of vandals and vigilantes, the city should be subsidizing the repair of their newsracks. 

Thanks to the manager and council for considering this request to act promptly to prevent further harm to publishers who have already been victimized by taggers and vigilantes. 


Michael Katz is a Berkeley writer.