RARITAN, NJ - Tired of leaflets, handbills and flyers littering the streets of Raritan? So is the governing body.
Mayor Zachary Bray and the borough council have been trying to find a way to, legally, stop the flow of “free” papers.
There are currently ordinances covering litter and solicitation, but none of them directly prohibit the type of distribution in this situation. According to borough attorney Bill Robertson, the advertisements wrapped in a quasi-newspaper outer layer is a game changer since it involves the first amendment, which guarantees freedom of the press.
He added that that would make it a difficult legal process regardless of the wording of any local law.
Robertson researched and found the distribution center and even the name of the contact person responsible for the delivery program in an effort to take the path of least resistance, voluntary cooperation. However, the attorney said he has tried on numerous occasions over the past 18 months to reach out to the company that produces the advertising packets and delivers them unsolicited all over town, but he has not yet received a return call.
“It’s important I communicate with them,” he said, “and advise them about borough ordinances and enforcement.”
Councilman Pablo Orozco explained that the flyers are delivered by being thrown from a van on driveways and walkways. The drivers have been ticketed many times by the police for erratic driving, since they are inserting the papers into bags while driving and swinging back and forth across the road to cover both sides of the street in one pass.
“We’re not trying to stop these deliveries,” said Orozco, “but we’re saying the bags have to be put on the porch or top step.”
He added that the Covid-19 situation has made the problem worse. Since many businesses are no longer spending advertising dollars, these flyers, which are mostly ads, are very light so they are being blown into the gutter.
The one snag is that it is likely an all or nothing situation, either everyone or no one gets these flyers.
“That concerns me,” said Orozco, “but I’ve put some time in to this. I’ve asked a lot of people whether they like receiving those flyers and I haven’t spoken to anyone that wants them.”
Responding to residents’ concerns, the council was generally united about stopping the mostly unwanted flyers, but the exact process is still unclear.
Although what is being done is effectively littering, Robertson said it will take a stand-alone ordinance, police involvement, witnesses and probably a court case to force an end to the delivery practices.
Orozco said he was frustrated by the fact that the council is now being told another law has to be written.
“We passed an ordinance in 2018 to address this specific issue,” he said. “The idea was we would enact it one year, give people and companies time to familiarize themselves with it and begin enforcing it in 2019.”
Robertson said he didn’t recall that law being written to address this specific problem and he remained adamant that it would not be effective in stopping the circulation of these flyers.
There was no vote taken. A discussion with the police chief and further research will be done before a final plan of action is put into motion.