S.F. State Senator Plans to Close the Book on White Pages

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You can still find 'Sarah Connor' on the Internet without wasting energy and resources to print out the White Pages...
Fans of classic cinema may recall the seminal scene in The Jerk in which Navin Johnson rejoices at the delivery of the White Pages -- "Millions of people look at this book everyday! This is the kind of spontaneous publicity - your name in print -- that makes people. I'm in print! Things are going to start happening to me now!" -- only to be randomly selected out of the book's pages by a crazed killer.

If Senator Leland Yee has his way, this won't happen again. But not for that reason. Not that he's saying.

The San Francisco State Senator on Thursday announced plans to introduce legislation that would require Californians who desire a White Pages be delivered to their homes "opt in" with their phone service provider, rather than have it delivered whether they like it or not. State law currently requires phone providers to send a White Pages for every phone line in a home -- meaning those with multiple phone lines end up with two, three, four or more books.

"Is there any way you can use that many books," queried Yee. (High chair? Weights? Object to drop on noisy drunks outside window?) "A lot of these books are simply tossed out and never used whatsoever."

Yee is unsure how many White Pages are distributed in the state at this time -- but the number easily reaches into the tens of millions. Data provided by his office claimed that 5 million trees are cut down each year to provide for White Pages nationally.

The state law requiring phone companies to provide a free White Pages for every phone line was passed by the California Public Utilities Commission in 1995 -- an era, Yee points out, before the ubiquity of the Internet, cell phones, or other devices commonly used to look up numbers these days (back in that era we used to admire how quickly Web sites scrolled).

Phone books are ubiquitous at landfills and dumps; those who have analyzed our detritus have described them as pockmarking building-sized mounds of trash like raisins in a cake. Locally, Recology (formerly NorCal) actually had to build special devices on its recycling sorting machines to deal with phone books. While most paper is lighter than bottles or cans and can be sorted mechanically, phone books weigh as much as a brick. Employees must manually pluck them off a conveyer belt and place them in a special chute.

Yee doesn't anticipate much opposition for his bill other than possible pushback from older citizens -- or, possibly, those who print the White Pages. He plans on introducing his legisation in January during the next session, with hearings to be held in February. If Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signs the bill, it would take effect in 2011.

Incidentally, White Pages have benefitted Schwarzenegger's career. Back when he was playing the Terminator, his character looked up all the L.A.-area Sarah Conners in the book and proceeded to kill them one by one.

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