Santa Rosa approves CityBus advertising program, dropping ban

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Advertising on Santa Rosa’s CityBus

Here are some of the images that Santa Rosa’s CityBus advertising program would prohibit:

-Displays that a reasonable person would find mocking or abusive of a person or group

-Promotions for alcohol, tobacco and cannabis products

-Depictions of human fetal remains

-Promotions for the sale or use of firearms

-Profane, obscene or violent images, as well as nudity or sexually explicit content

-Ads that promote or oppose religious, political or social issues

-Any depictions of a commercial transaction that “denigrates the city” or “promotes alternatives to city services in a manner that impairs patronage or revenue.”

Local businesses will be able to pitch their wares on the sides of Santa Rosa’s bus fleet after the City Council on Tuesday decided to end the city’s long-standing prohibition on such advertising.

The council voted unanimously to adopt advertising guidelines and develop a program to sell ad space on CityBus property, including the buses themselves, sidewalk shelters, websites and mobile applications and payment machines. It’s the first time Santa Rosa has created any type of advertising program, and officials indicated the policy as passed would be subject to fine-tuning.

“We recognize we’re breaking ground for the city in this instance by asking transit to be allowed to sell advertising space,” said Jason Nutt, director of the Transportation and Public Works Department. “And we fully expect that along the way, we’re going to be potentially making adjustments to this policy.”

Many municipal transit systems, including in Sonoma County and Petaluma and the Golden Gate Transit line, sell advertising space. Santa Rosa has been an outlier in its ban. In their about-face, city officials contend that selling ads on buses could bolster the finances of the transit system, generating up to $100,000 in new revenue.

Santa Rosa’s new advertising rules were modeled after the Napa Valley Transportation Authority’s policies and include a number of limits, allowing the city substantial control over what messages appear on public transit, Nutt said. That control could be exerted through staff reviews and a wide range of prohibitions. Ads for the sale or use of alcohol, tobacco and cannabis would be constrained.

Councilman Jack Tibbetts noted that some of Sonoma County’s tourism materials included people sipping wine and wondered whether that would be allowed on a CityBus ad.

It wouldn’t fly under Santa Rosa’s policies, Nutt said.

“Because it displays individuals enjoying an alcoholic beverage, that would not be something we would indicate on ours,” he said. “However, if the winery were to show a picture of their lovely winery, talk about their business hours and (say) ‘The tasting room is open,’ then that would be exactly what we would want to try to see advertised.”

Cannabis producers and retailers would likewise be able to advertise their businesses, but “without the luxury of advertising the product,” Nutt said.

Other prohibitions limit ads related to firearms, human fetal remains, religious proclamations and profane, obscene or violent images. Express political advocacy would be forbidden, but “get-out-the-vote” messages would be OK.

Julia Gonzalez, a city transit spokeswoman, told council members she personally received about four inquiries a month from nonprofits, hospitals and other agencies curious about advertising.

“We have a pretty good variety already kind of waiting in the wings to get the green light to begin advertising,” she said. She added the city needed to research whether bus ads could be applied as vinyl decals or whether the city would need hardware to start advertising.

Mock displays included pictures of kittens and puppies, a Santa Rosa public schools promo and a smiling woman’s visage in an ad for a family dentist. Mayor Chris Coursey, relaying praise of the advertising proposal from a city subcommittee focused on Santa Rosa’s downtown, said that “as long as we stick to the kittens and puppies that are in the examples, everything will be OK.”

You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or will.schmitt@pressdemocrat.com.

Advertising on Santa Rosa’s CityBus

Here are some of the images that Santa Rosa’s CityBus advertising program would prohibit:

-Displays that a reasonable person would find mocking or abusive of a person or group

-Promotions for alcohol, tobacco and cannabis products

-Depictions of human fetal remains

-Promotions for the sale or use of firearms

-Profane, obscene or violent images, as well as nudity or sexually explicit content

-Ads that promote or oppose religious, political or social issues

-Any depictions of a commercial transaction that “denigrates the city” or “promotes alternatives to city services in a manner that impairs patronage or revenue.”

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