. . . . above and below, examples of COA recycling centers presented in COA sales materials . .
For more than a month now, the Schenectady City Council has been under pressure to approve a proposal by Council Member John Polimeni that would allow Mayor Gary McCarthy to negotiate the terms of an agreement with Creative Outdoor Advertising of Tampa, Florida, for large, free litter recepticles bearing ads.
The Gazette has made the situation worse by changing its March 7 original, online headline from, “Schenectady council considers proposal to acquire ad-supported garbage bins”, which is informative and neutral, to the accusatory “Council slow walks plans for garbage bins”, in the March 8 newsprint version. Neither version of the article mentions the size of the proposed bins.
My Letter to the Editor, published in the Gazette, March 24 2023, tries to be more informative:
. . please excuse the broken link to this webpost that appeared in the Gazette. You can cite or share this posting with this URL. https://tinyurl.com/BinBanter .
COA appears to be an advertising firm that creates places for its ads to be shown by offering to give Street Furniture that serves a municipal function (such as large “recycling stations” and Benches) for free to municipalities, with the added offer of a small share to the City of any ad revenues generated. See Council Committees Agenda for Feb. 6, 2023 at pp. 219-243.
. . are these COA scenes analogous to the urban locations in Schenectady that have the most need of Litter Reform?
In return, COA is able to sell what are known as “off-premises” ads to businesses that want to reach customers through signs featuring goods or services not provided at the location of the sign. This is a valuable service for businesses interested in placing off-premises advertising because many municipalities in America have been banning such ads since the 19th Century. The U.S. Supreme Court noted last year in the case of City of Austin v. Reagan National Advertising (April 21,2022) that cities may do so to enhance aesthetic value or public safety, and that “tens of thousands of municipalities nation-wide” have adopted on-/off-premises distinctions in their sign codes.
COA gets around such laws by placing all of its products on municipal property after receiving the authorization of the municipality, its partner in the service. That would be its goal entering an agreement with the City of Schenecetady.
The Zoning Code of the City of Schenectady (§264-62) prohibits “Off-premises ads”, in fulfillment of the stated intent of the Code, in §264-59 (B):
Intent. The article is intended to protect property values, create a more attractive economic and business climate, enhance and protect the physical and historic appearance of the community, preserve the scenic and natural beauty, enhance the pedestrian environment, and provide a more enjoyable and pleasing community. The article is further intended hereto to reduce sign or advertising distractions and obstructions that may contribute to traffic accidents, reduce hazards that may be caused by signs overhanging or projecting over public rights-of-way, provide more visual open space and improve the community’s appearance.
Whether a long-time resident, newcomer, or tourist in Schenectady, we enjoy the benefits of the off-premises ban all over our City. We do not have the visual pollution of myriad off-premise signs along our streets and sidewalks, nor added advertising distractions and obstructions reducing traffic safety. To control litter, we have recepticles of modest size and open design, readily recognized for their role, that only minimally, if at all, detract from visual open space.
. . above and below, examples of COA Recycle Center Bins . .
At least in their public documents, the proponents of entering such a pact with COA have not mentioned the existence of our off-premises ad ban, nor even alluded to the benefits we will surely lose by spreading dozens of giant MetroBin recycling Centers along the heaviest traffic routes and public gathering places in our City. When the issue was raised by citizens like myself, we and Council Member John Mootooverin are told the off-premises ban does not apply to activity on public land authorized by the City.
BALANCE. Surely, that is not a sufficient reply. The question is whether entering an agreement with COA will diminish the accumulated aesthetic and safety benefits of the off-premises ad ban, and whether it is a trade-off in the public interest to give up such blessings to gain some unknown amount of reduced litter, receive free trash bins, and garner the paltry revenue likely to come from the ad sales. Doing that calculation, of course, has many problematic factors, not the least of which is that we have not been told how many trash cans would have to be purchased to replace bins in unacceptable shape, nor the added cost of purchasing more receptacles based on prudent assessment of additional litter-fighting needs.
FROM COA’S RECENT FACEBOOK ENTRIES
Looking beyond Creative Outdoor Advertising’s glossy brochure, I browsed COA’s Facebook photo postings, especially hoping to find scenes comparable to our urban structure. Judge for yourself whether COA’s product suits your image of Schenectady or its progress in beautification. One question you might ask yourself is How Many of these Fixtures would be Too Many to see on a regular basis, or when driving up State Street with friends from out of Town. Or, when discussing how beautiful Schenectady is with Ray Gillen.
- At the March 20, 2023, Council Committees meeting, one Council member supporting the COA proposal stated we probably could use 20 of the bins just along State Street. Can you picture that?
[click on an image for a larger version]
SCHENECTADY’S LITTER PROBLEMS
What picture do you have in your mind when you are thinking about Schenectady’s Litter Problem? For me, litter nightmares come as trash (including furniture) piled on the top and around a trash can or litter bin, or trash repeatedly tossed by the young or immature during a pot party, or blown across pavement up against a wall.
- I am not at all certain that those who irresponsibly litter will act differently when confronted with a massive receptacle that must be within arm’s reach to use so a cover can be opened. Why won’t the tossers just see a MetroBin as a tempting target and throw litter as close as they can, or as a bigger platform for their Litter Architecture?
- Mr. Polimeni has not explained why the giant bins will improve the behavior of Litter scofflaws or attract litter more effectively than traditional litter recepticles. His best explanation, as far as I have discovered is this gem:
“Quite frankly, we need garbage cans. We have a litter problem. If we put the cans out, hopefully people start using them.” (Schenectady Gazette, March 7, 2023)
- If you are viewing a MetroBin from the road, how will you even know it is there for the deposit of litter. If you do know what it is, will you look for a driveway to get closer to the Recycling Center, or run out from the car, blocking traffic, to please your sweetheart?
If the typical litter problem on your walk home is more annoying than large, why would you need more than the conventional 28-32 gallon container that leaves more of the scene visible? Wouldn’t a big bin somehow make these scenes more industiral, rather than more beautiful? And, shouldn’t the response of a prize-winning Smart City with cameras continuously capturing scenes all over town be to simply send a crew to empty the overflowing bins as frequently as needed?
Current City Litter Receptables: How would a giant MetroBin look instead?
Also, if installed curbside, will the mini-dumpster MetroBin reduce available parking spaces? Make it more difficult to open or close the doors on your vehicle? More difficult to see the street from your restaurant patio or inside table, or vice-versa?
HOW MANY RECYCLING CENTERS?
The COA rep told us “at least forty”, but browsing through the Company’s online pages, I found many businesses buying ad space on a dozen or more Bins, urged on by a multitude of pitches urging them to seek more locations. They are reminded: “The extra large-ad feature ensures that yourmessage achieves more than the usual exposure!”
And, does this boast mean that people on the sidewalk side of the road have to view yet another advertisement on the backside of the Bin?
The unit boasts not one, but two extra-large ad spaces that cater to cars passing by! The extra large-ad feature ensures that your message achieves more than the usual exposure!
It sounds like COA makes its line-up of Recycle Centers especially distracting to drivers. That cannot be a good thing. Will the draw be so great that those in City Hall who worship revenue streams urge more and more local businesses to climb aboard a COA bin? And, even ask COA to bring Schenectady into the COA world of advertising benches, marring more and more of the public right of way with insurance, injury law, and pun-ishing proctology ads (see above)?
Sacrificing the aesthetics and safety protections inherent in the off-premise ad ban, seems too big a price to pay and risk to take for the savings and revenue projected by Mr. Polimeni, who is perhaps the worst predictor of expenses and revenue on the Council (e.g., his Sidewalk Assessment Plan).
Why should our City risk aesthetics and safety for an iffy $10,000 to $15,000 a year? Or, wrangle over what can be advertised (pot, gambling, guns?) and which competitors and neighborhoods will be impacted by a City litter bin? Why, indeed?
(March 26, 2023) Prior Agenda items on the topic of COA litter bins recommended that the Council “Authorize the Mayor to enter contract negotiations with Creative Outdoor.” The proposal was approved at the March 20, 2023 Committees meeting.[discussion starting at 46:20] Also, Corporation Counsel Koldin stated the contract would state the City empoyees will pick up the gargage and litter. In addition, Council President Porterfield stated the council and neighborhoods would have input on the locations. However, the resulting proposed Resolution on the Council Agenda for March 27, 2023 (at 57) is not very specific on these points:
RESOLVED, that the Schenectady City Council authorizes the Mayor or his designee to enter into an agreement with Creative Outdoor Advertising of America, Inc., subject to a provision in the agreement stating that the collection of garbage and recycling from the units will be completed by the designated City staff for such services so long as the City has staff designated for such services, and subject to the Mayor or his designee providing a list of the locations at which the collection units will be placed prior to their placement to the City Clerk.
At no point did I hear any Council member mention issues such as undermining the off-premises advertising ban; aesthetic losses due to visual pollution from many large recycling centers and signs; or safety concerns due to increased driver distraction.
COMMENTS TO CITY COUNCIL for March 27, 2023 COUNCIL MEETING:
(March 27, 2023) This morning, I submitted the following email Comments to the Council concerning the proposal on Council’s March 27, 2023 agenda: