We received word a couple weeks ago that six of San Diego CityBeat's newspaper boxes in the Gaslamp Quarter were missing. This was perplexing. It's no small feat to remove these boxes, which have heavy metal bases and are often bolted into concrete.
After eyeballing the locations, such as at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Market Street, it was plain to see somebody had gone through the trouble of shearing off the metal bolts, leaving half the bolts still in the sidewalk. Who wanted so badly to interrupt the distribution of our alt-weekly that they'd use a professional construction device to cut out the whole box? A disgruntled and muscular private citizen? A city worker?
Initial questions directed at the office of City Councilmember Todd Gloria, whose District 3 includes downtown, led nowhere. Gaslamp Quarter Association executive director Michael Trimble also had no idea where the boxes were and said he didn't order them to be removed. Soon, we learned it wasn't just CityBeat that had been affected; nearly all the newspaper boxes in the Gaslamp Quarter were gone.
Suspecting vandalism, CityBeat filed a police report. The boxes cost between $100 and $300 each, and our publisher pays the city an annual licensing fee of $20 per box. All our boxes in the Gaslamp Quarter were officially tagged and registered.
Then I happened to run into a Clean & Safe maintenance ambassador downtown and asked if he knew anything about the missing boxes. Clean & Safe is a property and business improvement district (PBID) that's managed by the nonprofit Downtown San Diego Partnership. The PBID's maintenance ambassadors wear yellow vests and perform services like street sweeping, tree trimming and graffiti removal.
The Clean & Safe employee, who was sweeping up curbside debris on G Street, told me he cut down the boxes. Just like that. “Why?” I asked. “Internet, people don't read anymore,” he said. Oh. “Where'd you take them?” I queried. He said they were dropped off at “the yard,” and then, growing suspicious, clammed up.
The yard turned out to be the city's Central Operations Station at 20th and C streets. Sure enough, at the back end of the facility in an eight-foot-high metal dumpster, I found several trashed CityBeat boxes, as well as boxes belonging to the Union-Tribune and DiscoverSD.com.
According to an email from Gloria's office:
“Clean & Safe did not seek nor receive the city's permission to remove the boxes, and Councilmember Gloria expects that Clean & Safe will be more vigilant in the execution of its responsibilities in the future.”
Downtown San Diego Partnership CEO Kris Michell apologized profusely for what she said was a mistake. “We did it,” she told associate editor Joshua Emerson Smith on Friday after he approached her with the story.
CityBeat doesn't have a clear picture of how the order to remove the boxes worked its way down the chain of command to the maintenance ambassador. We have a hard time believing he did it of his own volition. We especially don't want to see any action taken against someone doing a job they were probably told to do.
We just want our boxes back—or replaced—as soon as possible. If the Downtown Partnership is interested in somehow upgrading the aesthetic of Gaslamp Quarter newspaper distribution, we would be willing partners in that venture and are happy to meet and discuss solutions.
All we ask is that a heads up is sent our way and nobody mysteriously yanks out a vital tool of our trade with no explanation.