Hawaiian newspapers, city reach tentative accord on news racks

Wednesday, September 30, 1998

Hawaiian publishers and city officials in Waikiki recently reached a tentative compromise on the placement of news racks on city streets.

Because the plan involves more than 500 news racks at about 100 locations across the city, the plan is complicated, city officials said. Some racks will be moved to new locations or consolidated into city-owned kiosks.

The plan would also establish a lottery system to determine which publications use which racks. Besides newspapers, the racks hold several tourist and free publications.

“We fully support it,” said Dennis Francis, vice president of circulation for the Hawaii Newspaper Agency, a joint operating group for the Honolulu Advertiser and the Star-Bulletin. “We think it’s a fair compromise. As far as the newspapers are concerned, we don’t lose any number of locations we currently have. We may have to move some of them a bit.”

The publishers said they have a First Amendment right to distribute their publications and that the racks are an effective way to get their information disseminated. They said the racks also help spur business at local stores.

In 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in City of Lakewood v. Plain Dealer Publishing that a city ordinance which required permits for news racks was unconstitutional. But a few lower courts since then have allowed some regulations provided they are content-neutral and contain permissible time, place and manner restrictions.

Francis said most publishers understand the city’s predicament. Many of Waikiki’s sidewalks are very narrow, making it difficult to place racks on them without causing safety problems.

The proliferation of racks has generated debate in Waikiki for years. Some said the numerous racks of various shapes and sizes clog the sidewalks and prevent shoppers from getting into some stores.

Council Chairman Mufi Hannemann said the council refused to pass an all-out ban because it would raise First Amendment concerns about press rights. Some residents have asked the council to remove all of the racks.

Francis said discussions with Waikiki council members have been similar to those held in other cities across the nation as publishers and government officials attempt to strike a balance.

“For the most part, the city has been very cooperative in coming to some sort of mutual resolution,” he said. “It hasn’t been an ugly fight.”

But Francis said the matter isn’t yet resolved. The council hasn’t approved the measure, which is open to public debate at a meeting next month.

“We’ve been patient,” he said. “It’s been going on for years. We don’t want to jump the gun on this and say we’re there. We’ve done that before and had to start again.”