JCDecaux's 16th Street spot. Photo by Lydia Chávez

The Board of Supervisors budget committee declined today to extend the city’s advertising kiosk and public toilet contract with JCDecaux, a pact Supervisor Aaron Peskin lambasted as “arguably one of the worst contracts this city has ever entered into.”

The Budget and Finance committee will revisit the item on March 13, setting into motion a likely lobbying orgy by the world’s No. 1 outdoor advertising company — and bringing about the possibility the city will cut longstanding ties with JCDecaux, forcing the French multinational to cart off the 25 ungainly, problematic toilets that have been scattered throughout the city since the 1990s.

That contract, ratified in 1996, was the subject of a Feb. 4 Mission Local article, which was cited multiple times today by the supervisors. As that story noted, JCDecaux’s deal mandates it pay the city a max of 7 percent of its ad revenue — a jarringly lower split than the city’s advertising deals with Clear Channel (55 percent) or Titan Outdoor (65 percent).

What’s more, JCDecaux’s toilets have a long history of poor performance and malfunctioning — and, even when not on the fritz, they were not infrequently commandeered by drug-users, sex workers, or people who used them as homes rather than restrooms. It was not until the city initiated its “Pit Stop” program of hiring nonprofit workers to attend the toilets that they became usable for all but the bravest among us.

Both Peskin and Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer today bemoaned that they had not seen the new JCDecaux contract San Francisco Public Works has been negotiating with the company, the terms of which may be revealed as soon as next month. “When our office spoke to [Public Works officials], it sounded like even they weren’t privy to all the details,” said Chelsea Boilard, a legislative aide to Fewer. “Public Works is being very tight-lipped.”

Mission Local’s requests for details of the contract were this month denied, though we were assured it was “far more favorable” to the city than the prior deal.

Both Fewer and Peskin were surprised and disappointed to learn today that, during the three years of extensions between the conclusion of the contract’s 20-year term and today, the city was still only receiving its 7 percent cut from JCDecaux. “We thought this agreement would be before you long before now,” said Julia Dawson, Public Works’ deputy director of finance and administration. “We did not renegotiate the current terms.”

As such, in the most recent year on record, 2017, JCDecaux amassed $10.55 million and gave 7 percent of that to the city — $738,539. And while Dawson told the supervisors that JCDecaux’s haul “has gone down the last couple of years” and that its lack of digital ad platforms has caused its market to “erode,” numbers provided by Public Works do not back up this contention.

Quite the opposite, in fact: That $10.55 million figure is the most JCDecaux ever made in San Francisco and represents a generally upward swing. It’s twice what JCDecaux amassed in 2004 and three times what it brought in in ’98. You can see the chart below.

Source: San Francisco Public Works.

Our request to Public Works, hoping to square the discrepancy between today’s statements and these numbers, has not yet been answered.

With the spurning of the extension at today’s meeting, multiple possibilities have opened up. One is: six supervisors liking the as-yet-unrevealed details in Public Works’ deal with JCDecaux and re-upping the contract.

Another is just the opposite: leading JCDecaux to yank out its toilets and kiosks posthaste.

And, depending on which of those comes to pass, a third way would be the city creating a contract for digital advertising, then bonding against that revenue stream to create a revenue source for staffed public toilets.

These toilets, Peskin notes, need not be technical marvels, considering part of the plan is to pay attendants to keep them clean and safe.  

“Instead of privatizing this shit,” he said after the meeting, “we can do it ourselves.”

At your service at 16th Street. Photo by Lydia Chavez.

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Managing Editor/Columnist. Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

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  1. One has to wonder, why the folks negotiating the contract extension were derelict in their fiduciary duty to get the best deal for the City. In light of the shenanigans in other departments where a department head calling the shots steered contracts to her wife’s business, I’m wondering what “side deals” were hatched in return for the City not getting it’s correct amount of revenue.

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  2. Joe! You rock! Thank you for your detailed and engaging reporting on something most of us would miss completely. (Has this contract always gnawed at you and you saw it up for renewal? Did a supervisor alert you? Or do you actually read those endless contract renewals that pass through this committee every week that closely??)

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