Metro is retreating from its plan to sell naming rights to its subway stations and bus stops, reports the Los Angeles Times. The policy, approved in December, was thrown out Thursday over concerns that refusing certain sponsorships could leave Metro open to lawsuits.
The transit agency had planned not to enter into deals with companies selling booze, electronic cigarettes, and weapons. It also wanted to exclude businesses with a history of unethical behavior, as well as political and religious organizations, says the Times.
There’s a legal precedent for public agencies excluding alcohol and tobacco companies from deals like these, because those products are considered a public health risk, Assistant County Counsel Charles Safer told the Metro Board of Directors in January.
But Safer also told the board that choosing not to be sponsored by a group “because you don’t like their politics, or that type of reason” could potentially conflict with the 14th Amendment. That amendment “requires that states guarantee equal protection of the laws to all people,” says the Times.
“As it turns out, we can’t really pick and choose,” County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl told the Times. Kuehl, who strongly opposed the plan, expressed concern that Metro wouldn’t be able to refuse sponsorship from a company with a history of discrimination or predatory business practices. “We couldn’t say no even based on the history of the corporation,” she said.
Beyond the potential for stations with unsavory names, the naming rights plan could potentially make it harder to navigate LA’s transit system. Talking to KPCC in December, Los Angeles City Councilmember and member of Metro’s Board of Directors Mike Bonin called the program “crazy,” and asked, “Is the Expo/Bundy stop gonna be the Burger King stop?”
Even though the plan has been halted for now, it’s not totally off the table. Metro spokeswoman Pauletta Tonilas told the Times she, “hasn’t ruled out pursuing the policy again in the future, although the board raised ‘valid concerns.’”
Tonilas’s department had proposed the naming rights plan as a way to help Metro raise funding in the long-term. Though LA County recently passed Measure M, a permanent half-cent sales tax increase that will generate funds for Metro projects, Tonilas told the Times that ad revenue is an important funding source because it is free from the spending restrictions that are imposed on sales tax revenue.