Thursday, May 3, 2012

(San Diego County) Grand jury takes on newsrack blight

U-T San Diego - written by Matt Clark - The city, the port and the Metropolitan Transit System have failed to crack down on unsightly newsracks, a San Diego County Grand Jury report has concluded. Authorities have also failed to enforce permitting rules, the report says. “The city is missing out on thousands of dollars in permit fees, and the appearance of the racks tarnishes San Diego’s image as ‘America’s Finest City,’” said the grand jury, a civil watchdog group. The report was released last week, and The Watchdog gave officials time to respond to the allegations. But city officials did not return requests for comment sent Thursday and Monday. The grand jury recommends creating or improving databases for tracking permits, displaying a permit sticker on each news rack and enhancing enforcement of newsrack ordinances. The grand jury reviewed the permit status and condition of 555 newsracks downtown, in North Park and in La Jolla. The review found 41 percent of the newsracks on city property were not permitted, missing out on $15 each per year. The grand jury estimated this cost the city about $23,000 annually. According to the report, the city issued permits for at least 144 newsracks that weren’t on its property. Fifty-nine of the racks were in other cities and 85 were on other agencies’ property within the city limits. Many of the racks have condition problems that are prohibited under the city’s newsrack ordinance, according to the report. Nearly a third of the racks reviewed downtown had graffiti or stickers on them, and others were rusty, had broken windows, had trash inside or were chained to city light poles or signposts. “A lot of them are used as storage facilities for homeless people,” grand jury Foreman Jim Lewis said. “A lot of stickers have been placed on these things, and even if they had publications in them, you wouldn’t be able to see what they were.” Neither the Port of San Diego nor the Metropolitan Transit System have an ordinance regulating newsracks. Both agencies are considering adopting one, the report said. None of the names of the publications reviewed were included in the report. Photos of some newsracks included in the report did not allow for identifying the name of the publication. None of them appeared to be U-T San Diego newsracks. Lewis said the grand jury stayed away from naming any publications in the report because it wasn’t intended to focus on the publications. He couldn’t provide an opinion on which publications did the best in maintaining the condition of their newsracks. “That wasn’t part of the focus on our investigation,” Lewis said. “Because we only did a representative sample, it’s hard to focus on any particular publication.” U-T San Diego Consumer Distribution Manager Pete Savoie said the paper obtains permits for hundreds of racks on city property as required under the ordinance, which the paper worked with the city to draft and adopt. Savoie said the city occasionally notifies him of condition problems. A U-T San Diego employee cleans up the rack and takes a picture that is sent back to the city, he said. “It’s not us,” Savoie said. “I have an employee and (another manager) has two employees to go out and check the racks and when they see them, get them cleaned up.”

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