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Update on San Francisco and Seattle Yellow Pages legislation

Things have been fairly quiet in San Francisco of late.  There has been little in the way of news regarding the addition of Chapter 20 to the city’s Environmental Code, the controversial anti-Yellow Pages legislation that was proposed by the Board of Supervisors last year.  The addition, if passed, would have made the delivery of print Yellow Pages directories illegal to anyone who did not specifically request receipt.  The legislative effort received national attention as local businesses, Yellow Pages publishers, and even local unions protested the measure and the effect it would have on the local business community.  This morning, the Local Search Association sent out this update to their members:

On April 19, LSA filed a motion for a temporary restraining order in the Oakland, California federal court seeking to stop the implementation of San Francisco’s ban on yellow pages delivery until the court can rule on LSA’s motion for preliminary injunction.

LSA’s preliminary injunction motion was filed in August 2011, but the court has postponed several hearings on the motion and has not established a new hearing date. In the meantime, the City has asked the court to stay all proceedings pending a decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in the Seattle litigation. The City agreed to delay implementation and enforcement of the ordinance, scheduled to go into effect on May 1, recognizing that a decision in favor of the industry in the Seattle litigation will mean the San Francisco ordinance cannot stand.

The Court of Appeals heard argument on the Seattle appeal in early February and a decision could come any day. We will keep you informed as things move forward.

In essence, all eyes are on Seattle where the legislative efforts appear to be grinding to a halt.  The last update on the Seattle legislation from LSA stated:

On February 9, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral argument on whether the Seattle delivery ordinance violates the First Amendments. The judges actively questioned the attorneys and focused on why Yellow Pages should be subject to greater regulation than other publications, including newspapers. One judge expressed his view that Seattle’s environmental claims were merely a “pretext” to get rid of a publication that the City doesn’t like. The Court will issue its decision at a later date. An audio file of the oral argument is available here.

So, what does all of this mean for the industry?  It looks as if the tide has turned in favor of the industry’s own efforts to remove unwanted directories from circulation via YellowPagesOptOut.com.  In Washington, opt-out rates have been low in spite of the municipal government’s efforts which included a direct mail campaign.  Several Washington State lawmakers also came forward with their support of the industry-run opt-out site rather than endorse a duplicate effort run at tax payer expense.  Further down the coast in San Francisco, the “opt in” ordinance, which was proposed by Board of Supervisors president (and then Mayoral hopeful) David Chiu has lost traction.  While it may be premature to sound the death knell of the anti-YP legislative efforts, it certainly seems likely that these current efforts to place severe restrictions upon the delivery of the print Yellow Pages may nearing their end. 

More details in the coming weeks.

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