Newsstand owners in New York City have filed a legal challenge to a new law that would transfer ownership of the city’s 300 independent newsstands to a single corporation.
Under the law, which was backed by the mayor and endorsed by all but three city councilors, the eclectic newsstands will be replaced by identical kiosks under central ownership. Five companies, including JCDecaux, which manages “street furniture” in 3,500 cities worldwide, are bidding for the contract. The former newsstand owners will be allowed to operate the new kiosks in exchange for a rental fee.
The move is part of a larger project to overhaul New York’s street furniture that includes revamping 3,500 bus shelters and installing pay toilets around the city.
The new kiosks, bus shelters, and toilets will be covered with advertising. In exchange for the exclusive right to sell this ad space, the chosen company will pay the city $20 million a year for the next 20 years. Currently, license fees from the newsstands generate about $160,000 each year.
City Council Speaker Gifford Miller enthusiastically described the plan as “a new aesthetic framework for our streets and sidewalks.”
“The city doesn’t own the newsstands, and this proposal is nothing more than a scheme to take ownership away from the mom-and-pop newsstands and give it to a mega-corporation,” said Robert Bookman, one of the attorneys representing the newsstand owners.
Many of the newsstand owners have been in business for decades, even generations. Several have complained that they are still paying off debts incurred in recent yeas to renovate their stands.
The suit, brought by the New York City Newsstand Operators Association, charges the city with violating the newsstand owners’ constitutional rights by taking their property without just compensation. It further alleges that the plan violates their First Amendment rights by forcing them to “associate themselves with advertising messages to which they have not consented.”
Meanwhile, City Councilor Hiram Monserrate has filed legislation to overturn the newsstand portion of the law. He says the city council was given incomplete information at the time of the vote, and contends the law takes unfair advantage of small, predominantly minority, business owners.
“Better than a court overturning this law would be the City Council coming to its senses and repealing it,” editorialized the New York Sun. “Newsstand operators are the kind of immigrant entrepreneurs that make this city great and that play a key role in distributing information vital to a working democracy. They deserve to be treated by the city as something other than a nuisance or a cash cow.”