A proposal to have Minneapolis follow St. Paul in regulating newsracks won its first City Council test Tuesday after a strong endorsement from Mayor R.T. Rybak.

The proposal by Council Member Ralph Remington unanimously cleared the first of three council committees that are expected to scrutinize it by Monday.

The proposal sets limits on where boxes dispensing news and advertising publications may be placed, in an effort to keep sidewalks clear for pedestrians. It also requires that the boxes be maintained, display owner information and be removed when abandoned. A fee preliminarily estimated at about $40 a year per box would be imposed to pay for the cost of regulation.

"This is an absolute disgrace," Rybak said of the current appearance of some newsracks. "We have a collection of messes on street corner after street corner after street corner."

John Meegan, representing the Lyndale-Lake business district, said that banks consisting of as many as 20 boxes and racks at one location are second only to graffiti as a livability issue in the area.

The Star Tribune registered multiple objections to the proposal. Voluntary attention works better than regulation in tending to unkempt newsracks and the proposal would make public access to racks more difficult, said Pete Barend, the newspaper's director of circulation, retail sales and marketing.

The cost of compliance also would be onerous, he said. Barend estimated that 80 percent of the paper's 659 current newspaper and specialty publication boxes in the city would need to be moved to comply with spacing rules.

But Dave Gardner, a distribution manager for a Pioneer Press subsidiary that distributes free and niche publications, said the regulations are a good idea although the fee is too high.

Rybak said the Star Tribune's boxes aren't a problem compared with those of some free publications, but he scolded the newspaper for resisting regulation. He said a voluntary city-industry approach to tending to messy boxes, which has prevailed in Minneapolis since St. Paul adopted regulations in 2000, hasn't worked.

"We have junk out on the street that must be cleaned up," he said.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438