• What ever happened to LA's Norman Bench Advertising program?

    Here's a problem: You're waiting for your bus. It's late, as usual, and you're hungry. So you grab a snack. Minutes later, the bus comes and you're still eating. Take the food on board with you and you risk a $250 ticket. So what do you do? If you're most people in Los Angeles, you toss your food--wrappers, plastic bags and all--on the ground, where it sits in perpetuity, or winds up drifting into the watershed, eventually finding its way to the ocean.   It seems like a no brainer that every major bus stop in the city should have a trashcan. But we don't. And our city is filthy because of it.   Over a decade ago, Los Angeles proposed a solution to the problem called "The Norman Bench Advertising Program." I wrote about the program last year for the now defunct LA CityBeat.    From my story: @font-face { font-family: "Times New Roman"; }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; }table.MsoNormalTable { font-size: 10pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; }
    The Los Angeles Public Works Bureau of Street Services keeps up roughly 3,000 trash bins throughout the city. Metro, however, has nearly 6,000 stops.   We don’t have the budget to put a bin at every stop,” says John Sapone, manager of the Street Maintenance Division of the Bureau of Street Services. “We’d have to double our fleet of trucks, each of which costs a few hundred thousand dollars. And of course doesn’t include the cost of hiring new drivers.”   Nearly a decade ago, however, the city figured out a way to defray the costs of street cleanup through something it called the Norman Advertising Bench Program.   According to the program’s contract, a company called Norman Advertising would install bus benches across the city, maintain them, keep them clean and graffiti-free. The city could demand up to one out of every four of these bus benches come equipped with a trash bin, installed and maintained by Norman Advertising. Discretion over the placement of these bins was supposed to fall under control of the Bureau of Street Services. In exchange, Norman would sell ads on public benches, with the city taking a cut of the revenue.   In theory the contract could have boosted L.A.’s public trash bin presence by nearly 50 percent.
      Only it didn't happen. From its inception the Norman Bench Advertising Program in Los Angeles was a disaster. According to a 2006 city audit and multiple subsequent media reports, Norman Advertising, the company the city contracted to carry out the service, consistently failed to clean and remove graffiti from its benches, and to empty trashcans when full. Likewise the Bureau of Street Services failed to exercise any control over the placement of Norman's bins. Nor did it enforce rule that Norman should provide trashcans at every four bus stops where it installs its benches. Norman put out as many bins as they wanted, where they wanted, and no one held them to account.   “There’s no question there’s not enough oversight of the program,” city councilor Tom Labonge told me last year.   Norman Advertising’s contract was up at the end of 2009. Yet no public discussion about what to do about the bus bench situation was ever convened. Was Norman’s contract renewed? Did the city crack down?   I called the City Attorney's office earlier this week to find out the status of the contract. Was it renewed? And if it was, were modifications made? They said they'd get back to me. Still waiting for a definitive response. All I know is, LA still has the same plastic bus benches with the same old ads. Doesn't look like much has changed.
    For more than a decade LA has sold its public space and gotten nearly nothing in return. We deserve to know the fate of the program and if anything has been done to improve it. More updates to come. Posted by Matthew Fleischer on 11/18/10
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