Tag Archives: City of Seattle

Judgment Day for City of Seattle Opt-out Folly

Since the start of its October, 2010 efforts to implement a required opt-out program, despite the industry’s already established program, we have criticized the elected leaders of the city of Seattle –

  • November, 2010“ …this really isn’t an environmental move by the City of Seattle. Instead, it has become a clear attempt at cost shift and a political stepping stone for some Council members…”
  • July, 2011: “ …Lost in Seattle: Hello. Print Yellow Pages Aren’t Your Problem..”
  • August, 2011“Seattle Green Efforts Come Up Way Short”
  • October, 2012“..Take that Seattle. In a decision, which has been expected for some time, the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals released a unanimous decision today which holds that under the First Amendment, Yellow Pages directories are “fully protected speech” and not “commercial speech.” The appeals court determined that print directories are entitled to the same standards under the First Amendment as newspapers, magazines, etc. Needless to say, this is a major win for the industry..”

Despite the obvious stupidity of this effort, the leaders keep on pushing this needless waste of taxpayer funds.  We’ll now The Seattle Times reports that the city has tentatively agreed to pay $500,000 to yellow-pages phone directory publishers in a settlement, rather than continuing the fight to appeal a ruling that the city violated the publishers’ free-speech rights,

Initially, a U.S. District Court judge ruled in favor of the city’s position.  But a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit, generally a very left-leaning court, sided with the yellow-pages publishers, ruling that the phone books are protected, like other publications, by the First Amendment.

The Local Search Association has repeatedly fought that the city opt-out registry wasn’t necessary because the publishers and Association had their own fully functional opt-out systems. But, city leaders lead by City Councilmember Mike O’Brien insisted on forging ahead with an opt-out registry for “unwanted phone books” and charged a $100 fee on each of the three companies that distribute phone books in the city. It also charged the companies for every book delivered, levied a fine of $125 for deliveries to households that had opted out.  And, to add insult to injury, the law required the publishers to advertise the city’s opt-out service on the cover of the yellow pages.

A suit then filed by Local Search Association, the Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in October that phone directories are protected by the First Amendment and that Seattle’s law regulating distribution of the yellow-pages directories was unconstitutional.

Now judgment day has arrived for the city as they will now need to pay $500,000 of taxpayer money to the industry.  City Councilmember Mike O’Brien, still refuses to admit the futility of this effort and said he couldn’t comment on negotiations to settle the lawsuit because they were still ongoing. He said the settlement agreement could also decide “the future of Seattle’s yellow-pages opt-out system.”  Gee, you think so?

As you would expect some of the city’s finest are reacting online.  Here is one of the few blog comments I could print:  “..let’s SUE and FINE Yellow Pages for LITTERING. Shoot them on site for trespassing…”.  So much for the civility these same people preach to us about.

As we noted in October, 2010:

“…What a shame. It didn’t have to be this way. A working process was already up and running. But that wasn’t enough for the greenies. Someone in big business had to be punished no matter the costs or the impact to taxpayers…”

My only question is whether City Councilmember Mike O’Brien and the other 7 elected officials who voted for this effort (only one Councilmember voted against the ordinance) will now be held responsible for reaping the taxpayers.  Somehow, I doubt it.

9th Circuit Strikes Down Seattle Yellow Page Opt-Out Ordinance

Take that Seattle.  In a decision, which has been expected for some time, the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals released a unanimous decision today which holds that under the First Amendment, Yellow Pages directories are “fully protected speech” and not “commercial speech.”  The appeals court determined that print directories are entitled to the same standards under the First Amendment as newspapers, magazines, etc. Needless to say, this is a major win for the industry.

We noted back in August 2011 that Seattle’s effort to force a city run opt-out program and recycling fees on yellow page publishers was both legally questionable and irresponsible especially since the industry had already initiated an opt-out program and website.  To compound matters, the city then sent out 280,000 post cards (or 4 TONS OF PAPER) to inform residents of this effort, none of which is believed to have been recycled.

The Local Search Association, which has fought a long, hard, expensive battle on behalf of its members is “extremely pleased to announce that a full victory has been achieved by our Industry”, and will now move quickly to bring this appeals court decision to the attention of the San Francisco U.S. District Court (which is also within the jurisdiction of the 9th Circuit) to vacate their opt-out program.

The Association believes the City of Seattle now has only two options:

  • The  City could seek a rehearing before the 9th Circuit U.S. Court      of Appeals.  However, in cases such as this where there is a unanimous decision, a rehearing is rare.
  • The City of Seattle could seek a review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

I think a third option would be for the city to apologize to the industry and all of their tax-paying residents for all of this nonsense and start working with the industry on ways to improve recycling rates.  But that probably won’t happen as several of the city leaders that championed this effort clearly have higher political office in mind.

Congratulations to the Local Search Association staff, and especially, Dex One and SuperMedia for fighting the war that needed to be fought….

 

Seattle Green Efforts Come Up Way Short

You have to be one tough hombre to live in Seattle.  It can be one of the most depressing places to live and work.  The city averages 226 cloudy days and 155 days of rain a year.   That maybe one reason why the city needs some 9,000+ coffee shops just to help you make it through the day.  It’s also not a cheap place to live:  compared to the rest of the country, Seattle’s cost of living is 42.60% HIGHER than the U.S. average.  I think it may even have some green envy since Portland, not Seattle, was named as one of the top 10 most eco-oriented cities in the world, mostly because of a comprehensive plan to reduce CO2 emissions and aggressive green building initiatives.  And since I found all of these depressing stats on the Internet, of course they must be true.

So can we really blame the city for wanting to be first at something?  Why not try to pick on print yellow pages.  Their unique but ultimately illegal attempts
to force a city run opt-out program and recycling fees on yellow page publishers
have been well documented here:

To show you how misguided its civic leaders are, consider this recent stroke of genius:  to try to get Seattle residents and businesses to follow their opt-out jihad on phone books, residents have been urged by mail through a yellow postcard from Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) on how to stop receiving “unwanted phone books”.

During July, yellow post cards (ironic choice of color for the card don’t
you think) were sent to 280,000 residence and business addresses so that
Seattleites who “….don’t have Internet access can select their phone book
delivery preferences by mail.”  In the ultimate in hypocrisy, the program coordinator:

“….acknowledged the irony of sending out mail to encourage people to stop junk mail but he pointed out that the mailer, which will use four tons of paper, is expected to help 28,000 more households and businesses stop 168,000 phone book deliveries, saving 150 tons of paper….”

How many of those 280K post cards, or 4 TONS OF PAPER do you think will be recycled?? And the outcry from all of those “green” champions who despise Yellow Pages?  Haven’t heard a peep out of them yet.  Zip, zilch, nanda, zero.  So junk mail is ok now in Seattle??

But wait.  It gets better.   King County has initiated a new online service to help eliminate junk mail for those live outside the City of Seattle.  As King County
Executive Dow Constantine acknowledged, “…recycling is great, but reducing
waste at the source is even better…”    Perhaps the city of Seattle should take note.

Or even just do a little research before they plunged headlong into this ridiculous effort.  For example, if they had just bothered to look at the recent research from Market Authority which conducted 185,000 interviews on how American’s search for a local business.

They would have found irrefutable data, analysis and reporting on how
people look for a local business when making a local buying decision. The
research fully dispels the prevalent “urban myth” that the Internet has taken
over the local search arena:

“The Internet is gaining ground but surprisingly, overall it is a long way from dominating print Yellow Pages as America’s primary search option,” says Deanna S. Helsten, Director of Research Market Authority, Inc. “We
determine and prove print versus Internet sage…actuality and perception, smart phone ownership and usage, Internet connectivity, etc., market by market, all organized by today’s ever growing imperative – age groups,” states Steve Sitton, CEO Market Authority, Inc.

The research detailed the often remarkable difference between metropolitan,
suburban and rural markets. In nearly every market in America, print yellow pages is still very strong.

But Seattle is clearly intent on going in a different direction.  I assume they missed this annoucement since it didn’t come in their junk mail……

Lost in Seattle: Hello. Print Yellow Pages Aren’t Your Problem

The City of Seattle has just released their 2010 Recycling Rate Report.  In it, the city staff just gushes over their efforts to improve recycling rates:

“…Seattle’s goal to reach 60% recycling of municipal solid waste (MSW) by the year 2012, and 70% by 2025. In 2010, Seattle recycled 53.7% of its MSW, an increase of 2.6 percentage points over 2009. This is the largest increase in the recycling rate since 2006. The recycling rate has risen 15.5 percentage points since the 2003 low of 38.2%….”

Such a model city.  Kudos for increasing your recycling results.  But are things as peachy as they make it sound?  Not really.  When you dig a little deeper, you find that the city’s total municipal waste stream came to 335,570 tons.  As most you already know, Seattle has become the battleground for local governments overstepping their functions and legislating that phone books must be opt-out, making the publishers pay fees for distributing books within the city:

In 2010, the Seattle City Council passed legislation aimed at reducing the delivery of unwanted yellow pages phone books.  <<their evaluaiton, not the  industry’s>>  In May 2011, SPU launched an Internet database <<a duplicate of the industry association efforts already in place>>, which allows people to opt-out of receiving yellow pages and junk mail. The database works for residents living outside of Seattle as well. By the end of May 2011, nearly 30,000 households and businesses signed up and opted out of more than 185,400 yellow pages deliveries. This represents more than 150 tons of paper waste prevention.

Using the City of Seattle’s numbers, this illegal action which only
targets phone books, after all its promotion, after all of the complaints from
a small minority of residents, and despite the industry’s best efforts to
convince City legislators that this effort was a duplicate, job killing, small
business killer, has only managed  to save 150 tons out of a total waste stream of more than 335,00 tons. That comes to .0447%. All of this hoopla for less than a tenth of a percent.  That’s really sad and a true real waste of tax payer money.   Yet City leaders can’t see through their bubbles of recycling joy that  they should be more focused on the other 99.95% of their waste.  Phone books are NOT the problem people!!!

Fortunatley, the legal battle againist the City’s illegal ordinance is far from over.   The “CourtHouseNews.com” reports that the ball game is just getting started:

The 9th Circuit seems likely to stop enforcement of a new Seattle law that lets residents opt out of receiving phone books and requires yellow pages publishers to be licensed and pay 14 cents on every delivered book.

Last month, a federal judge granted partial summary judgment to the city, dismissing the publishers’ First Amendment and Commerce Clause claims. He separately refused their demand for an injunction.  Directories are commercial speech, and “common sense – the touchstone of the commercial speech doctrine – dictates that the yellow pages directories should not receive the highest level of protection afforded by the First Amendment,” U.S. District Judge James L. Robart wrote.

Dex Media West, SuperMedia and the Yellow Pages Association, which filed suit in November 2010, now want the 9th Circuit to grant an injunction pending appeal, saying the law violates their First Amendment rights.  The publishers presented their claims for emergency relief to the three-judge appellate panel on July 13.  The judges seemed sympathetic to the publishers’ request and saved most of their questions for the city of Seattle counsel Jessica Goldman.

Judge Edward Korman began by asking why the new rule doesn’t apply to all junk mail.  “There are many publications that are given out to which your ordinance doesn’t apply,” Korman said. “It only applies to the Yellow Pages. Why isn’t this a form of discrimination?

Judge Richard Clifton asked why “shopper”-type newspapers stuffed with ads are not addressed by the ordinance.  “It comes twice a week,” Clifton said. “It forms a stack a whole lot bigger than the phone book and the ordinance does nothing about that and the city is apparently not going to do anything about that.”

Goldman said she could not speak about what Seattle might do in the future, but this was a “first step.” She said that the city had a vested interest in preventing waste and protecting the privacy of residents, but the judges seemed skeptical about the privacy claim.

“When I find these books on my doorstep, I don’t think my privacy has been violated any more than when I find a food flyer from a local restaurant or takeout place,” Korman said. “I don’t understand that argument at all.”  Clifton said that he was also “mystified” by the privacy justification.

How does what Dex is doing – in attaching yellow pages to the directory – a further invasion of privacy?” he asked. “I see zero improvement of citizens’
privacy rights through this ordinance.”

Clifton called privacy a “red herring” and said he thought the
ordinance was strictly about waste.

Local Search Association Responds to Seattle Ordnance

If this post had a subtitle it would read:  “While Seattle City Council Wastes Taxpayer Money, Local Search Association Sets the Record Straight

The local media in Seattle, lead by the Seattle Times have announced the start of a new print phone directory opt-out ordnance and further reported grossly inaccurate facts (hello Times — Dex, Yellowbook and Superpages are NOT owned by the Association, they are members).  Fortunately, the Local Search Association (formerly Yellow Page Association) has released the following statement to set the record straight:

Duplication and waste, inefficiency, lack of privacy guarantees and an array of other concerns characterize Seattle’s Yellow Pages opt-out website according to the Local Search Association, which manages a nationwide, industry-sponsored telephone directory opt-out program already available to Seattle residents through the www.yellowpagesoptout.com program.

 “Seattle residents who believe that the city’s site will protect their privacy when removing themselves from yellow page delivery lists will be sadly mistaken,” said Neg Norton, president, Local Search Association. “We believe that the city’s redundant site is not necessary and is unfairly leading residents to believe it has spent the government’s time and the taxpayer’s money on something new, when this option has been available to residents all along via www.yellowpagesoptout.com.”

The official site, http://www.yellowpagesoptout.com, offers consumers a number of advantages including privacy protections that Seattle’s site does not provide, an easy to use interface, and the ability to stop delivery of both Yellow Pages and white pages phone books.

Comments on various blogs from supposed local residents have criticized the Association opt-out site because it asks for a phone number so publishers can verify future opt-out requests.  The comments show a puzzling trend from a select group of people who believe the publishers/Association are going to share that information with telemarketers.  Such comments are ridiculous as the industry already works with millions of telephone numbers each day with no privacy issues.  And why would it further irate a small group of people who choose not to receive their print products?  However, one cannot make the same claim about the city of Seattle.  Since they are obviously in a revenue grab by taxing publishers, the next logical step in their efforts to balance their budget would be to market the data they collect.

The press release from LSA goes on to question the overblown calculations of the ordinances chief cheerleader:

Councilmember Mike O’Brien and Seattle Public Utilities have also released statistics that greatly exaggerate the environmental impact of print directories, falsely implying that phone books create 100 pounds of unwanted paper each year per household. According to the city’s own estimates, the city annually recycles approximately 1,500 tons of phone books or less than 2 percent of total recyclables – not 17,500 tons as claimed.

“We are deeply concerned with the way the City of Seattle has exaggerated in its media effort the number of directories distributed within the city limits, suggesting a per/household pound estimate that is 1,200 percent above what their own research shows,” Norton said.

Gee, a government group using inflated numbers to further their cause.  Have we heard this before somewhere?  LSA continues in the release to explain why this new government site makes little sense:

Directory publishers remain committed to offering Seattle residents and consumers nationwide the ability to choose which directories they receive at www.yellowpagesoptout.com . Through proactive industry efforts, the amount of directory paper in the market has declined by nearly 35 percent since 2007.

Even as the City of Seattle has worked to reduce its environmental footprint, it has selected a model that only encourages waste by duplicating work that the industry has already done. The sustainable approach is a national one, where there is one standard website for consumers across the United States to stop delivery of directories. The benefits of the industry’s site include:

  • No burden to cities, taxpayers, or city government staff: Industry assumes all costs and staffing associated with development, maintenance and promotion of http://www.yellowpagesoptout.com .
  • Greater awareness: One official industry site will result in greater awareness for consumers across the country, amplifying the positive impact of the initiative.
  • Integration with publishers’ technology systems: The website will work seamlessly with the publishers’ systems; no third-party vendor has the same level of existing knowledge.
  • Library of directory covers provide better clarity of choice for the user: The website will include visuals that will make it easier for residents to identify the directories they wish to keep or stop.
  • Protected personal information: Residents using www.yellowpagesoptout.com can be confident that their personal information will only be shared with publishers for the purpose of customizing their directory delivery choices and not sold to third parties or used by city governments or their website vendors for marketing purposes. The city has made no such assurances for its opt-out program or website.

Wake up Seattle.  Your self-serving Council is spending your money on an ego ride it doesn’t have to be on.  You can do better, much better….