City to roll out new plan for combating 'bandit signs'

While Councilman Curtis Jones and Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell were proposing to legalize those obnoxious "We Buy Houses!" signs last month, the Nutter administration was quietly cooking up some sign-fighting tactics of its own. Its new plan to fight back against so-called bandit signs is two-fold, said Brian Abernathy, chief of staff to the Managing Director: ramp up enforcement with a staff dedicated to tracking down offenders, and get city agencies to focus on taking the signs down.

What was the city previously doing to rid our utility poles of these blasted signs?

Not much. In 2010, the city wrote only eight tickets for illegal signs. When we called the Streets Department and Licenses and Inspections to ask about current enforcement, they both declined to comment.

So this feels like a step in the the right direction.

"At least they're talking about it and not just ignoring the problem," says bandit sign activist and founder of Christopher Sawyer.

Abernathy says since it's often difficult to determine who to ticket for the signs, a team will be in charge of digging up that information. (This idea is reminiscent of Licenses and Inspections' team of researcher-interns who track down absentee landlords.) Abernathy is still trying to finalize funding for that staff, which will be based in the Office of Administrative Review, but he says that, hopefully, everything will be ready by spring (which begins today, so let's cross our fingers).

At the same time, city workers from Licenses and Inspections, the Community Life Improvement Program (CLIP) and the Streets' Department's Sideways and Walkways Education and Enforcement Program (SWEEP) should be keeping their eyes open for these signs — and taking them down. Previously, this wasn't a priority for those city workers, Abernathy says.

The city still doesn't have the resources to respond to a complaint about a single bandit sign, Abernathy says, but complaints will be mapped. If a crew is already out in a bandit sign-ridden area, it will take those signs down (and hand them over to the research team).

There's an opportunity for residents to help out, too. Inspired by the passionate bandit sign haters he's met, Councilman Jim Kenney had this idea: neighbors can give signs they've taken down to the city so the city can ticket those offenders. Abernathy says his office is considering this.