Help Desk: Cracking down on bandit signs

Christopher Sawyer removes a 'bandit' sign at 6th Street and Montgomery Avenue. (Kate McCann / Staff Photographer)

PHILADELPHIANS are tired of the illegal "bandit" signs that pop up on utility poles around the city, screaming "We Buy Houses!" or "Cash 4 Junk Cars." On Monday, the Daily News reported about one citizen who's taking matters into his own hands by tearing them down. But city government is (finally) trying to find a solution, too.

The Nutter administration has been working on a new strategy to fight the obnoxious signs. The plan 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.

We say that the city is "finally" cracking down because the current enforcement plan is . . . pretty much nonexistent. 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.

Abernathy said that it's often difficult to determine whom to ticket for the signs. But, soon, a team of researchers will be in charge of digging up that information. Abernathy is still trying to finalize funding for the staff (the city is looking into corporate partners), which will be based in the Office of Administrative Review.

At the same time, city workers from relevant departments should be keeping their eyes open for these signs - and taking them down. Previously, this wasn't a priority, Abernathy said.

The city still doesn't have the resources to respond to a complaint about a single bandit sign, Abernathy said, but complaints will be mapped so that workers can crack down on problem areas.

Residents will be able to help out, too. Inspired by the passionate bandit-sign haters he's met, Councilman Jim Kenney suggested that neighbors be invited to turn in signs that they've taken down, so that the city can ticket offenders. Abernathy tells us that the administration has signed off on this idea.

The administration hopes to roll out the strategy this month. Council has been kicking around its own ideas for addressing the problem, including a proposal to legalize the signs and charge a small fee for posting them.

ALL TRUCKED UP: A few months ago, we wrote about illegally parked trucks. Trucks with a carrying capacity of more than a half-ton aren't allowed to park on residential streets overnight. But that law is repeatedly broken, and some folks think that it's because the police could do a better job of enforcing it.

The issue is especially a nuisance in the Northeast, where neighbors say that tractor-trailers park on residential blocks and wake up whole streets at the break of dawn when truck drivers try to get their diesel engines started.

Since City Council returned from recess this January, Councilwoman Marian Tasco has introduced three bills that would outlaw truck parking on certain blocks in her district, the 9th (even though it's already illegal). Before this year, Tasco introduced about a dozen other truck-parking bills that were passed by City Council. Tasco's not the only one who has introduced these kinds of bills - former Councilwoman Joan Krajewski and then-Councilman Michael Nutter also introduced several of them.

Tasco introduces these bills in hopes of increasing police enforcement, she said, but, often, the problem just moves to another block that wasn't targeted by legislation. Since there's no point in passing these bills on every block, Tasco has been working with Deputy Police Commissioner Richard Ross Jr. to make sure that police officers know the law.

Here's another idea: Raise the fine for illegally parked trucks. Right now the ticket costs $101, but a higher fine might up the stakes. District 2 Community Relations Officer Mark Mroz thinks that the reason truck owners don't seem to care about parking illegally is because getting a few $101 tickets is cheaper than paying $100 per month to park in a secured lot.

Mroz himself admits that he can't get out to ticket illegally parked trucks as much as he'd like, but he tries his best to follow up on every case and make sure that the problem goes away.

"I can't allow [truck owners] to disrupt everyone else's lives," he said.