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Santa Monica debates content of bus ads — Big Blue isn't supposed to advertise nonprofits

Santa Monica's Big Blue Bus.
Parker Michael Knight/Flickr Creative Commons
Santa Monica's Big Blue Bus.

The Santa Monica City Council plans to debate a free speech issue Tuesday night. It’s about the ads on the sides of the city’s Big Blue Buses.

For five years, AIDS Project LA has bought ads for its October fundraising walk on the sides or backs of Santa Monica’s Big Blue Buses. Not this year.

The city bus operation mistakenly violated its own rules when it sold the ads to the nonprofit organization, says its chief administrative officer Joe Stitcher. After a review of ad sales last December, a city attorney told him that only commercial businesses were allowed to buy bus ads. That’s because if the city accepts advertising from one nonprofit, it would have to do the same for all of them.

So AIDS Project LA has taken out a newspaper ad. It urges people in Santa Monica to pressure the city to restore paid promotional space for the well-known AIDS charity. Mayor Richard Bloom has asked the City Council to discuss whether Santa Monica can revert to selling bus ads to certain groups while denying others. The city already bans ads for liquor, tobacco, firearms and political speech.