Several Northeast neighborhoods tackle bandit signs as bill awaits attention from City Council

On January 26, Councilman Curtis Jones, D-4th, formally introduced a bill that would legalize the bandit signs that residents say litter the streets and create blight in their neighborhoods. The bill was co-sponsored by Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, D-3rd.

“I can’t figure it out,” Councilman Brian O’Neill, R-10th, said. “We’re trying to do everything we can to get these signs down rather than trying to legalize them. They are blight, they lower the quality of light and they lower neighborhood values.”

The term “bandit signs” refers to signs posted on telephone and utility poles offering to buy house and cars, and provide various services. According to Philadelphia City Code 10-200, these signs are illegal and owners face fines from $75 up to $300 for each sign posted.

It has become increasingly difficult for the city to keep track of who is posting the signs, making it a challenge to enforce the fines.

After years of seeing the signs around, residents have taken it upon themselves to fight the issue.

In Fox Chase, Mike Bobby has stepped up and put himself in charge of tearing down the signs.

“[With this bill] the city is just going to be overrun with these signs,” Bobby said. “It’s just going to be totally ugly. It’s just going to be blighted. People do not want these signs, nor do they want to do business with the people who post these signs.”

Bobby, a member of the Fox Chase Town Watch and the Fox Chase Town Homeowners Association, has taken down thousands of these signs since he first noticed the issue a couple of years ago. His work is known by residents all around the neighborhood, including O’Neill, whose council district includes Fox Chase.

“The Town Watch and Homeowners Association meet together in Fox Chase and they are very high in their praise for what he’s been doing for quite a while on his own,” O’Neill said. “He goes out and takes these signs down constantly and as fast as he’s taking them down, these people are putting them back up.”

In Parkwood, Marge Philippi has been one of the most proactive civic association members. Known for her regular clean-ups of the small piece of Poquessing Park near her house, Philippi began tackling bandit signs when they started cropping up. She uses various tools to help reach the higher signs, and updates her neighbors on her progress at the monthly Parkwood Civic Association meetings.

Philippi could not be reached for comment, but O’Neill, who has worked closely with her on this issue, shared his opinion of her.

“She’s a dynamo,” O’Neill said. “I don’t know how she motors on and just keeps going because she’s been doing it for years. But as soon as she takes them down, they put them back up.”

Although Bobby and Philippi have committed themselves to tearing these signs down, they are not the only residents who do so.

“I rip them down,” said Greg Farrell, a Burholme resident. “You can’t even see the speed limit signs or the red light signs — they have them all covered. Some of them are so high you can’t tear them down, though.”

For the higher-up signs, Bobby has taken to carrying around a step ladder and a tall scraper. But even with his efforts and the efforts of other residents, the signs return like clockwork.

Residents are worried that with the passing of Bill 120017, the problem will only worsen and any efforts to take down the sign will be in vain.

Still, O’Neill said he is optimistic that the bill will not advance past the beginning stages.

“So far the bill hasn’t even been requested for a hearing,” O’Neill said. “So I’m hoping it’s just one of those things that was a bad idea and never got to see the light of day.”

Maryline Dossou is a student reporting for Philadelphia Neighborhoods, the publication of Temple University’s Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.

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