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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, January 30, 2002

No ads for bus shelters No ads for bus shelters (January 30, 2002)

Proposal could have saved city $200,000

by Geoff S. Fein

Palo Alto's 30 bus stop shelters will remain advertisement-free after the City Council narrowly rejected a measure Monday to turn over maintenance of the shelters to the Valley Transportation Authority. The decision keeps in place the city's sign ordinance forbidding signs on public property.

The measure would have saved the council upward of $200,000 by letting the VTA replace the worn-out and obsolete shelters. The measure would also have allowed the city's transportation department to reassign one employee to more important traffic issues, according to the Public Works Department staff report.

Councilwoman Judy Kleinberg said she couldn't vote for the item because of her concerns over visual blight and the types of ads that would go into the shelters.

"We are in an effort to beautify the community and this would diminish that effort," she said.

The council rejected staff's recommendation by a 4-3 vote, with only Council members Jack Morton, Dena Mossar and Jim Burch favoring the proposal. Approval of the measure would have changed the city's 6-year-old sign ordinance.

According to City Manager Frank Benest, the proposed shift in policy was part of the city's goal to strengthen its bottom line. Staff had been asked to see where the city can off-load some responsibilities, Benest added.

"The real benefit is not revenue," he said.

Although Director of Public Works Glen Roberts said the city could take in as much as $50,000 a year in new revenues through the agreement, Benest said the real benefits were avoiding future maintenance and replacement costs and redirecting public works staff to take on issues such as traffic calming.

However Benest's proposal wasn't enough to sway the council.

Two key issues raised by the council led to its decision: control of advertising on the shelters and which of the city's shelters would contain advertising.

The city currently maintains 30 shelters around town. The proposal would have kept in place those 30 shelters and allowed the VTA to add an additional 10 at existing bus stops. The VTA would have installed solar lighting, graffiti-resistant materials and eliminated all glass panels in each shelter. The glass panels would have been replaced by scratch-resistant, clear aluminum panels.

Advertisements would be carefully scrutinized, according to a VTA representative. Clear Channel would sell the ad space and the VTA would have say on whether an ad would be authorized. Ads later found to be offensive to the public could be removed at the request of the VTA. The transit authority would also have to confirm advertisement choices with Palo Alto city officials.

VTA would not accept display ads for tobacco, alcoholic beverages, ads that contain nudity and sexual content, and any ads prohibited by local ordinance.

Kleinberg asked if the proposal would give the VTA control over what is deemed offensive.

City Attorney Ariel Calonne said that it may appear that VTA has control, but the issue is really about protected speech.

The worst case scenario, Benest said, is that the city would back out of the agreement and resume taking over maintenance of the shelters.

However, the city could only back out of the contract if an advertiser were to sue the city. The city can't undo the contract for the sake of undoing the contract, Calonne said.

The VTA maintains approximately 450 shelters throughout Santa Clara County.

E-mail Geoff S. Fein at


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