The La Mesa City Council on August 12 voted unanimously in favor of vice mayor Ruth Sterling's request for city attorney Glenn Sabine to investigate and report back on legal options to regulate the unsolicited distribution of advertising materials on properties in the city.
Sterling wrote in a memo that several citizens "expressed concerns" about the distribution of circulars, pamphlets, flyers, and door hangers. "Not only do they create blight, the accumulation of these items when residents are away for an extended periods of time" creates "security risks as thieves and burglars realize no one is at home," she wrote.
At the meeting, Sterling held up a paper-filled plastic bag. "This [agenda] item is about this, newspapers being thrown in our driveways. They get into our flower beds; they're on our sidewalks," said Sterling, whose one-year rotation to the position of vice mayor started August 12.
Her memo generated an email from a male resident that Sterling read at the meeting: "Every week, I find packages of ads thrown onto my driveway by passing trucks. These ad packages are printed and stuffed by the Union-Tribune. I'd love it if the city would investigate and make the U-T stop barraging with unwanted plastic-wrapped packages of advertisements. I agree that if someone leaves town, the number of these sitting in your driveway gives burglars a clear message that the house is empty."
During discussion on the dais, councilman Ernie Ewin said he wanted the council to "make sure there are not any First Amendment issues."
Sterling said the city attorney will look into "all options and he will evaluate the First Amendment or anything that we can do."
Ewin acknowledged where Sterling "was coming from" and said most material is delivered to his mailbox. "I have a great delivery person.” He displayed a plastic bag and said material in it is recycled at Walmart.
Councilwoman Kristine Alessio said she would support the motion, but "if the Union-Tribune is doing it, we might be better off sending a letter saying, 'Don't do this.' I hate to regulate, when you can pick it up and put it in the trash or recycle."
Sterling said, "It's pamphlets, circulars." She held a copy of El Latino newspaper, distributed by National Night Out participants. Referring to a circular, she said, "These are passed out two or three times a week about getting a new mattress."
Materials left on properties in East County includes the plastic bag left weekly on a San Carlos driveway. Contents of the August 8 bag included coupons, the August 3 Parade magazine, and circulars for Rite Aid and CVS, with sales dates of August 10-16 for both pharmacies. The August 8 Ortho mattress ad was topped by the phrase, "LOCAL COMMUNITY VALUES."
After the council meeting, I looked at the plastic bag. Wording on it stated, "Colossal Coverage. Colossal Savings. Subscribe Today U-T San Diego Sunday." Above that were the words, "U-T San Diego Local Community Values." A check online led to the message, "Local Community Values Content is no longer available."
My online search also led to "Bugged by U-T Litterbugs," Russell Goltz's February 15, 2012 Reader story. In the story, Goltz described attempts to clear up the plastic-bagged clutter in Pacific Beach. His efforts included contacting the newspaper and the police about littering.