Proposed ban adds brawn to community's flier fight

Goal is to stop businesses from leaving ads at homes

April 03, 2005|By Jill Rosen | Jill Rosen,SUN STAFF

CLARIFICATION

The headline on an article in Sunday's Maryland section about a proposed flier ban in Baltimore might have suggested that the ban targeted only the Federal Hill neighborhood. The ban is proposed for all of Baltimore.

The lewd ones were the last straw.

Frustration was already growing in Federal Hill over fliers, menus and advertisements that businesses stick on people's homes, a perpetual paper stream of pizza coupons and refinancing offers that, more often than not, end up littering city streets.

But when someone blitzed the area with ads for one of The Block's X-rated clubs, Keith Losoya, president of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association, decided it had to stop.

It could stop under a Baltimore City Council bill being proposed Tuesday.

Councilman James B. Kraft's proposal aims to prevent businesses from putting advertisements on residential property without the owner's permission.

"Our primary concern is that they end up blowing all over the street," Kraft said. "It dirties the streets, it dirties the sidewalks."

Kraft's proposed ban taps into people's increasing lack of patience for intrusive advertising, from telemarketing calls and e-mail spam to junk mail.

It would expand the city's ban on placing ads on cars, a law that has been on the books since 1987. Paper-pushing violators would face a $50 fine.

In 2001, a similar proposed flier ban crumpled before reaching a vote. But Kraft thinks his will be well-received.

"I know people in neighborhoods all around the city would be ecstatic about this," he said.

In Federal Hill, Losoya certainly is.

After being pelted with the racy club ads, he and his neighbors spent a month collecting leaflets from their doorknobs and porch railings, hoping to figure out which businesses were the worst offenders.

The idea, Losoya said, was to call those establishments and see what it would take to get them to cease and desist with the paper. Maybe they'd consider taking out ads in the Federal Hill newsletter or find a spot on the community Web site.

"It's an ongoing issue," Losoya said, adding that until hearing of Kraft's proposal, "We thought out hands were tied."

Hopes and worries

Caroline Burkhart, former president of the Canton Square Homeowners Association, also relished the idea of a ban. "Oooooh, yes," she said after hearing about it. "Oh, that would be nice."

In Canton, the harbor breezes pull the menus away just about as soon as they're dropped onto steps, Burkhart said.

"They don't call them fliers for nothing," she said.

But some of the papers do stick. "Most of the time, I pick them up and take them right inside to the trash can," she said.

Much less thrilled with the ban concept are restaurateurs and small-business owners who rely on flier distribution to get their message out.

Nick Ginis, who owns Fells Point Carry Out and has peppered southeast neighborhoods with menus for three years, said he'd be "100 percent" against a ban because it's the only advertising he can afford.

"How are we going to advertise?" he said. "This would be bad for the small business."

And Yogesh Lal, manager of Federal Hill's Banjara, said that in the year or so his Indian restaurant has distributed menus, delivery and pickup orders have increased.

"It's not hurting anybody," Lal said. "We remind the community we are in the neighborhood. ... We are trying to refresh their memories."

Potential pitfalls

Attempting to ban business literature can be a dicey proposition, according to Richard T. Kaplar, vice president of the Media Institute, a nonprofit foundation that focuses on communication policy issues.

"That could be a juicy commercial speech issue," he said of the proposed flier ban.

He compared putting advertising material on people's homes to getting unsolicited items in the mail - something the courts have refused to prohibit. "It's the price you have to pay for living in a free society," he said.

Yet, if crafted carefully, Kaplar said, a flier ban could withstand legal scrutiny. Particularly, he said, if it is uniform and doesn't exclude certain types of fliers or literature.

Kraft's proposal would allow political advertisements. "It's not a product for sale, lease or trade," the councilman said.

Lillian Sydnor, president of the Cold Spring Lane Improvement Association, has mixed emotions about a ban.

Yes, all the paper is a nuisance. But, she said, she feels for the people whose job it is to hand it out.

"A ban could hurt someone who needs to feed a family or someone coming out of rehab. These people get paid for doing that and need a job," she said.

"I'd rather them put a circular on the walkway than snitch my purse."

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