Where is My Sand Paper?

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We hear that a lot during season as visitors and residents look for a paper. We work all week to fill the Island Sand Paper with interesting stories and informative reports on local meetings, news and events. But if readers cannot find a copy of the paper, all that work is for naught. If our paper is not accessible to the people we write it for, we’ve failed in our mission to inform. Don’t let the rumors of newspapers’ decline fool you. In this market, in our demographic, people very much want to hold the local newspaper in their hands and read the hard copy. We provide a website and social media connections to the Island Sand Paper, but that hard copy remains critically important.

Our ability to distribute the Island Sand Paper to readers is now threatened by a proposed new Fort Myers Beach ordinance that would severely limit where we and other newspapers can place our newspaper boxes on the island. See our article, “Town Council to Hold Final Hearing on Newsrack Ordinance” for the details of the ordinance.

Why This Ordinance and Why Now?

There has been no public outcry about the aesthetics or safety of newspaper boxes/newsracks. We asked to see anything the public had to say about the topic to Town Hall in the past year and found that the pubic had not contacted anyone about the subject. No complaints, no comments, no nothing.

This is on Town Council’s agenda only because it’s a hot button issue for Mayor Dennis Boback. He is the only person we’ve heard complain about newsracks. This is just not a big issue for anyone except the mayor. And now the rest of council, the Town Attorney and the Town Manager, because the mayor has engaged all of them in his quest to remove just about all newsracks from our Island, and make no mistake, that is the direction we’re going.

This is a classic example of government by personal agenda – a poor way to govern, yet still possible because elected officials hesitate to oppose another official’s request. Maybe it seems rude, but whatever the reason, it’s an inefficient way to govern. This time it’s newspapers in the mayor’s sights, who will it be next?

Every newspaper publisher we know is interested in presenting a neat and attractive location for readers to pick up a paper. Calling newsracks unsightly, inconvenient, dangerous and a public nuisance, as this ordinance does, is insulting and inaccurate and not the way to elicit a cooperative effort to improve the appearance of newsracks.

Newspaper distribution teams know better than most what the problems are, who is abandoning racks or not maintaining them. Ever since we had over 20 racks stolen not that long ago, there have been a lot of eyes on our racks. We refurbish them frequently, and always on request. For instance we just refurbished the newsrack/box at Bay Oaks after someone called to say it was looking worn – the same week as this ordinance was introduced. A little bit of irony there.

The ordinance is poorly written and needs to be re-done based upon what council actually wants. For instance the preamble begins with all the reasons that newsracks are terrible in the public right of way (ROW). And then it bans all newsrack placements in the ROW. The mayor has said and other council members agreed that the ROW is taken up entirely by sidewalks and there is no room so it’s dangerous to have them there. What ROW are they talking about?

They could be referring to Times Square, North Estero Blvd. or the Old San Carlos Blvd/Crescent downtown area – the only places where the Town owns any sidewalks – but we doubt it. They seem to be referring to the Estero Blvd. ROW, which belongs to Lee County not the Town.

The town’s side streets have plenty of ROW space off the paved street surface, with very few exceptions. So, there is space in Town-owned ROW to safely allow newsrack placement. Unless the goal is to eliminate newsracks entirely. Then go ahead and ban them from the public ROW.

The ordinance preamble says nothing that would explain why the Town wants to regulate newsrack placement on private property.

If it’s aesthetics and safety, then they need to draft a more comprehensive ordinance that includes trash cans, vending machines, propane racks, satellite dishes, lawn furniture and ATMs, because they all can fall into that ‘unsightly’ and ‘dangerous in a hurricane’ category. It’s unfair and punitive to focus solely on newsracks.

Does Council really want to tell private property owners whether they can have a newsrack on their property? Property owners are fully capable of deciding that for themselves and asking for its removal if they don’t like how it’s maintained. Other communities think so. None of the Southwest Florida newsrack ordinances we reviewed limited private property placement or required permits for private property. None.

If council insists on private property restrictions, which includes a required 20’ from virtually everything, the effect will be that the Sand Paper will be forced to remove 90% of our newspaper boxes on Estero Island. Why? Because the ordinance, as currently drafted, says that boxes can’t be in the right of way AND they can’t be on private property if they can be seen from the street or neighboring properties.

The boxes at Topps? Gone. Boxes at Santini? Gone. Boxes at the Chamber? Gone. All of them are visible from the street.

And not just newspaper boxes. Real estate publications, magazines, newsletters, shoppers – all these are considered newsracks and will fall under these newsrack rules.

When compared to surrounding communities’ newsrack regulations, the proposed Fort Myers Beach ordinance is overly restrictive and will make finding a newspaper, ours and others, on this island very difficult for our residents and visitors.

Is that what council wants?

 

Missy & Bob Layfield
Owners, Island Sand Paper