Proposition E - Advertisements on City Property

Voter Guide
This measure appeared on the November 2009 San Francisco ballot.

What it does

Proposition E is an ordinance that would prohibit the installation of any new general advertising signs on City-owned buildings, including bus shelters, after signs approved as of Jan. 1, 2008. The measure would not affect current advertising agreements, but when current advertising agreements expire, new or subsequent contracts would be subject to the prohibition. Bike racks installed for the proposed City bike-sharing program would be exempt from this ordinance.

Why it is on the ballot

Proposition E was placed on the ballot by a vote of the Board of Supervisors. The measure is intended to codify Proposition K, a previous non-binding policy statement that called for a limit on street advertisements. Proposition K passed by 62 percent of the vote in 2007. This measure specifically limited street advertisements on publicly owned property including transit shelters, kiosks, benches and newspaper racks.


  • The visual space is a public good that should not be sold to private advertising companies. Whereas people who wish to avoid advertising can refrain from purchasing a magazine, watching television, or surfing the internet, citizens cannot avoid advertising in the public realm. The City has an obligation to protect the public space from visual clutter.
  • Advertising creates visual clutter, which detracts from the beauty that makes San Francisco a distinctive place to visit and live in. If additional advertising on publicly owned property is allowed, San Francisco may become less visually appealing and therefore less of a tourist destination, depriving the City of important tourism revenue.
  • The measure takes a reasonable approach to limiting advertising. The measure does not ban all advertising, but rather limits the addition of new advertising.
  • The current bus shelter contract contributes less than 1 percent (about $7.5 million this year) to the general revenues of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which could easily be found elsewhere, such as through better enforcement of transit fare payment.


  • Because advertising revenues currently are the only easy source of revenue to fund bus shelters, public toilets and news kiosks, this measure prohibits the SFMTA and JCDecaux– which operates public toilets and advertising kiosks – from funding these public conveniences. Limiting the SFMTA’s ability to gain revenue from advertising might result in higher transit fares, or less frequent and lower quality service, or both.
  • Revenue generated from advertising on publicly owned property funds services that benefit the public, such as public transportation and clean streets. Although advertising in the public space does privatize public property to some degree, the citizens of San Francisco receive a commensurate benefit.
  • As this measure would be approved by the voters, it could only be amended by a vote of the people. The requirement for voter approval would unduly constrain the City’s ability to react to changing circumstances

SPUR’s analysis

Although SPUR believes in maintaining the integrity of San Francisco’s unique visual appeal and has supported efforts to restrict public advertising in San Francisco in the past, it believes that the provision of reliable and quality public transit is more important. Furthermore, private revenue sources – particularly in challenging financial times – allow the City to provide services such as new transit shelters and a bicycle program that would be impossible to provide in the absence of this revenue stream.

SPUR recommends a “No” vote on Proposition E.