East Falls neighborhood leaders crack down on illegal signs

They’re really hard to remove.

The best practice, it became manifest, is to rest a six-foot ladder against the utility pole to which the offending advertisement is affixed. With one – or, better yet, two – community members footing the implement, you carefully scale the steps, preferably with a 12-inch long flat-head screwdriver already in hand.

When you reach the highest rung that comfort and safety allows, you wrap your left arm around the pole for security. With your free hand, you jam the screwdriver behind the lowest nail holding the sign in place, and pry, pry, pry.

Once the bottom nail is compromised, you work the sign so it breaks from the top nail. It will come off, but not easily.

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Invariably, someone at your feet will look up during this process and remark, “It looks like you’re moving up in the world.”


A citywide crackdown

At the vanguard of a recently-announced city-wide initiative, members of East Falls Town Watch and East Falls Community Council hit the streets Sunday afternoon to remove signs posted illegally in their neighborhood.

The offending advertisements – better known as “bandit signs” – are beginning to receive a lot of attention from both civic groups and city government in recent weeks.

Independent of local efforts, forces within Mayor Nutter’s administration are beginning what has been referred to as a “crackdown” on the signs, which typically include offers to buy “junk” cars, houses, or provide home-improvement services.

As reported Sunday by KYW, Brian Abernathy, Chief of Staff to the Managing Director, is leading the administration in the purge.

He indicated that the city intends to fine repeat offenders. For research, interns will be used by the city to find out who is posting the signs.

In addition, the report indicated that Streets Department employees will be utilized to take down signs in their free time, as they see them.

Abernathy was not immediately available for comment on Monday.

‘It’s a travesty’

Mary Jane Fullam, President of EFTW, said that offensive signage came to the forefront of her attention last year. At the time, Fullam was working with 39th Police District personnel to combat thefts from vehicles in East Falls, and hoped to put up signs alerting the community to this phenomenon.

She was surprised by what she saw.

“We wanted to put up our signs,” Fullam recalled, “but there were so many other illegal signs.”

After researching the issue, Fullam concluded that she could take the matter into her own hands – and take them down herself.

“It’s a travesty,” she said of the visual impact.

Curtis Jones Jr., Fourth District Councilman, has co-sponsored a bill he thinks would provide a clearer, more consistent way to limit and remove bandit signs.

In January, Jones and 3rd District Councilman Jannie Blackwell introduced an ordinance which would amend Chapter 10-1200 of The Philadelphia Code.

While the ordinance would in fact allow the posting of temporary signs on utility poles and streetlights in certain permitted areas, the proposal includes restrictions limiting the sign’s size. The use of fasteners or permanent adhesives is prohibited under the ordinance, which also imposes 90 day time limits on the advertisements.

Signs must also receive official city permission in the form of a stamp.

The ordinance also includes a provision for penalties for violators, which would include a $300 fine per sign, along with administrative and removal costs.

Asked for comment on the status of the legislation, Jones said that, if enacted, “(it) would provide an avenue for architecturally coordinated street advertisement, much like other large cities, i.e. San Francisco, Boston and Chicago, in mutually agreed upon locations and regulations throughout our city.”

Some in the neighborhood question the wisdom of a bill that would legalize, even partially, a practice that is now illegal.

But Jones says, without proper legislation and enforcement, “we cannot rid our neighborhoods of unauthorized signage.”

If passed, Jones plans to review those departments responsible for enforcing the ban during budget season and allocate funding accordingly.

65 down, many more to go

While legislation looms, Fullam reported that Sunday’s efforts were a success, with approximately 65 signs removed.

In addition, she contacted several business owners whose numbers were listed on the signs, and relayed that many of them indicated preliminary interest in eliminating excess advertising.

Fullam said that EFTW will continue to remove bandit signs, and will participate in the 5th annual Spring Cleanup on April 14 with an eye toward the sky, in the ongoing effort to eliminate visual pollution both in her neighborhood and across the city.

“We’ll see how this all ends up,” she said.

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