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Xtra hit by city bylaw

New restrictions limit availability to readers

A new bylaw regulating newspaper boxes in Toronto could mean the vast majority of such boxes, including Xtra’s, are illegal.

The bylaw, which is set to become official law at the next city council meeting in December, sets out regulations about the location and maintenance of newspaper boxes in the city.

Adrienne DeFrancesco, Xtra’s circulation manager, says the new regulations could be devastating to Xtra.

“My survey of the Church/ Wellesley neighbourhood, with city staff, provides a snapshot of what is coming. Five of our six boxes, which are currently legal, will be deemed illegal under the new bylaw and will have to be moved or eliminated. This does not bode well for the situation of our other 79 boxes, which would likely be in similar situation.”

In October 2004 the city declared a moratorium on new boxes, putting a damper on new publications and publications with expansion plans. The new bylaw sets out painstakingly specific rules as to where existing boxes can be placed. Many, including those owned by Now, Eye, Fab, Metro, 24 Hours and the four dailies among others, would have to be removed.

For example, among the many rules is one prohibiting boxes where “the sidewalk is 1.5 metres or less in width, unless the installation is located on a paved portion of the boulevard and set back a minimum of 0.6 metres from the edge of sidewalk so as to create at least 2.1 metres of space clear of all obstructions for uninhibited passage.”

Boxes violating these rules can be seized by the city, which will charge the box owners $300 per box for the seizure, storage and release.

The bylaw offers virtually no information about actual enforcement. The bylaw makes no provision for hiring new enforcement officers to augment the lone provincial offences officer for street events, who currently includes the policing of news-paper boxes among his duties. Nor does the bylaw make it clear how some of the provisions will be enforced. If some boxes have to be removed from an intersection corner to bring it into compliance with the law, for example, there is nothing outlining which publications’ boxes will be removed.

The provincial offences officer did not return repeated phone calls by press time.

DeFrancesco says that even if the moratorium is lifted, the stringent regulations will make it virtually impossible for Xtra or any other publication to add new boxes.

“Effectively our outreach abilities will be very seriously hampered.”

On the cost side of things, Xtra and other smaller community papers might receive a break when it comes to new licensing fees. Under the new regulations, the city will charge $100 per box. But a proposed amendment to the bylaw will set up a tiered system that will only charge $25 per box for the first 100 boxes and $100 per box after that. Xtra, with only 85 boxes, would only be charged $25 per box.

City councillor Paula Fletcher says the proposed amendment will be brought to the Works Committee on Tue, Nov 8. If passed, it would then be voted on by council in December. Fletcher attributes the amendment to efforts by DeFrancesco and Xtra.

“You can call it the Xtra bylaw, or at least driven by Xtra. I’m anticipating that it will be accepted.”

Fletcher says fallout in San Francisco, where a similar pricing bylaw was passed, convinced her of the importance of such an amendment.

“In San Francisco it drove many of the smaller, community-based papers out of business, or at least out of sight. We needed to find a solution for the smaller papers to make sure their voices can’t be snuffed out.”