- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 19, 2002

Opponents of a bill that would allow 90 percent of the city's street furniture to bear advertising yesterday cited protecting the dignity of D.C. parks and neighborhoods as a key issue.

"This bill neither acknowledges nor protects the unique character, plans, streets and public spaces of the city, including the National Mall," said George Idelson, vice president of the National Coalition to Save our Mall.

The bill provides a limited explanation of what is classified as street furniture, which could include bus shelters, benches, newspaper vending boxes and stands, bike racks and lampposts.

Mr. Idelson and other opponents of the measure including the Federation of Citizens' Associations, the D.C. Preservation League and representatives of several local and national newspapers testified yesterday before the D.C. Council's Committee on Public Works and the Environment.

As currently drafted, the bill introduced by the D.C. Council at the request of Mayor Anthony A. Williams would give the director of the D.C. Division of Transportation autonomy in selling space on public furniture to any business that wants to place an ad.

The proceeds from the advertising contracts would go to the D.C. Highway Trust Fund, which is used by the city to match federal highway funds.

Transportation Director Dan Tangherlini said the bill is an opportunity for the city to explore better advertising-revenue options and get a public benefit. He said he accepted full responsibility for any misinterpretation of the bill.

Some opponents said the bill would allow advertisements everywhere, including in parks and recreational centers.

"This bill was only introduced to allow us to re-compete our advertising contract for our bus shelters, which expires next year," Mr. Tangherlini said.

Council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican and chairman of the public works committee, made it clear yesterday that she did not want to see ads "all over the place," detracting from the historic beauty of the city.

Mrs. Schwartz said the bill should not be used as a ploy to get revenue "just because" the city is facing a $325 million deficit.

"The deficit was not even on the table when this bill was introduced," she said.

The Washington Times reported yesterday that a key problem opponents had with the legislation is that it would allow businesses to pay for the design and construction of the furniture, as well as choose where it would be placed.

The bill also would pre-empt normal review by several city agencies, including the Contract Appeals Board and the Office of Contract and Procurement.

Mr. Tangherlini said that creating a task force to review what would be considered appropriate advertising and to set limits on how many ads can be used in a given neighborhood would be handled easily by his agency. He said it was his intention to solicit ideas from the community on the types of ads they want and the design of the furniture.

After hearing numerous negative comments on the bill yesterday, Mrs. Schwartz asked that the bill be withdrawn.

Mr. Tangherlini declined, but said he would work with her committee to address concerns about the measure.

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