UPPER WEST SIDE — Upper West Siders are joining the battle against dirty and dilapidated newspaper boxes that blight city sidewalks.
Community Board 7's transportation committee this week backed an effort to crackdown on poorly maintained boxes that hold publications such as the Learning Annex catalog, the Village Voice, Metro and am New York.
The newsracks sometimes deteroriate into trash-filled, graffiti-covered nuisances, say advocates with the Upper East Side non-profit group Civitas, which is leading the push to strengthen laws regulating the newspaper boxes.
Community Board 7 transportation committee co-chair Andrew Albert said the grimy newspaper boxes aren't just an eyesore, they're a security hazard, because the empty boxes can be used to stash all kinds of objects.
"They're not being maintained, they’re sometimes fallen over, people are putting things in them including trash, sometimes they're for publications that haven't existed in a while," Albert said. "They’re unsightly."
A 2002 law required owners to keep the newspaper boxes neat and tidy, but publishers successfully watered down those regulations in 2004, claiming they were too punitive.
Publishers argued that the crackdown limited their ability to distribute their products, and that harsh fines for newsrack violations threatened the budgets of small newspapers. New York Press Association Executive Director Michelle Rea, who's spoken out against the enforcement effort in the past, couldn't be reached for comment Thursday.
Civitas wants to give the Department of Transportation more power to enforce newsrack violations. They're asking the City Council to hold an oversight hearing with the aim of adding more teeth to the 2004 law. CB7 passed a resolution this week backing Civitas' efforts.
As it stands, the companies that own the newspaper boxes are required to "self-certify" three times a year, meaning that they fill out a form themselves stating that the boxes are clean and functioning, said Civitas associate director Tali Cantor.
"It's totally insufficient," Cantor said. "We only have so much real estate in the city. The streetscapes are a public space. Having the streetscape overflowing with trash isn’t something we consider to be quality of life."