CITYWIDE — An increase in city fees to renew newsrack permits is forcing three publications, including the Argonaut, to abandon their Santa Monica racks, a local newspaper distributor said.
Annual renewal fees jumped from $45 to $82 per rack on Sept. 1. By comparison, Los Angeles charges $21.69 annually per rack, while Pasadena charges just $11.19 per rack.
Racks make up a small percentage of total distribution for those publications, said Tom Ponton, of News To Go, which distributes the Argonaut, Campus Circle, and L.A. Parent in Santa Monica. All three publications will continue to distribute in private Santa Monica locations, like stores and restaurants, but will no longer be available on city streets.
Argonaut publisher David Comden said that Santa Monica has “by far, the most expensive rack permit fee” of the at least 20 cities he’s worked with from San Diego to Sacramento.
It will impact less than 1 percent of his overall distribution, he said.
The fee increase was approved by the City Council as part of the 2013-15 biennial budget in June.
Councilman Kevin McKeown said that he regrets the Argonaut’s decision to pull their racks from Santa Monica, but said that no one highlighted the fees as a problem when the budget was being discussed.
“I don’t think the fees are exorbitant,” he said.
Susan Cline, assistant director of Public Works, said that City Hall was not previously recovering all of the associated costs.
“Everything that goes into the cost recovery calculation includes the staff time to issue the permit at the counter,” Cline said. “For newsracks, we actually send out inspectors annually, so it also includes their time. Before we’ll actually reissue the renewal permit they have to be repaired and in good order.”
Ponton said News To Go newsracks will be gone within the next two weeks.
“They’ve gotten stricter and stricter about what they have to look like,” he said. “It costs more and more money to upgrade them, and painting them, and looking nice. They also slap us with these higher and higher fees and that is just prohibitive in our business, which is struggling in our economy.”
TJ Montemer, publisher of the Santa Monica Mirror, said they won’t stop stocking racks.
“It’s not going to shut you down, but it makes this harder,” he said.
Local publishers said they did not know of the increase until they received a bill recently in the mail. The item was buried in the 193-page budget document that included roughly $1 billion in spending.
Jonathan Kotler, an associate professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, said it is not a violation of the First Amendment for a city to raise fees for newsracks.
“If they allow racks on the sidewalk, they’re not supposed to discriminate based on content, so it’s got to be the same rates for everybody that distributes,” he said. “But there is no specific right that gives a news organization a right to be on a public place without the owner of the public place, the city, making reasonable rules and regulations about it.”
Tom Newton, executive director of the California Newspaper Publisher Association, said that cities cannot raise fees above what it costs them to permit the racks.
Santa Monica Daily Press Publisher Ross Furukawa said the increase wouldn’t change the quality of distribution.
“Despite the cost increase, we remain committed to delivering the best news to Santa Monica via print,” he said. “With that said, I’d be interested to know how Pasadena can solve the same problem for one-eighth the cost.”
Greg Asciutto contributed to this article.