Sign of the times: City cracks down on bandit signs
Having a garage sale? Better think twice before placing a sign on a nearby intersection advertising the event.
The City of Austin is cracking down on bandit signs ? illegal signs placed in public right of way. Why? Clearing up a few questions is the first step at solving the citywide problem.
What are bandit signs?
Section 25-10-103 of the City’s Land Development Code states that signs are prohibited in public right of way (ROW). This means that a person may not install or use a sign maintained on a structure located on or over public property or public right of way. This ordinance has been on the City’s books for almost 20 years.
The City Manager and code enforcement staff working under the City Manager’s direction have the authority to remove a sign or other advertisements located on public property or public right of way. The City doesn’t have to provide notice to remove or dispose of the illegally erected sign.
Some of the most common types of bandit signs seen every day on City intersections and streets are:
Garage sale notices.
Local business advertisements.
Political campaign signs.
Directional signs for new homes and development.
In many cases, the person installing the sign is not aware he is breaking the law.
How is right of way defined?
Right of way is legally defined in Section 25-1-21 of the Land Development Code as “land dedicated or reserved for streets, utilities or other public facilities.”
Most often, the public can assume that land up to 10 feet back from the street on public property is considered public right of way for most neighborhood streets. As a general reference point, the land between the expansion joint of a driveway and the street is typically the public right of way.
How big is the problem?
City officials received more than 1,000 citizen complaints on new sign violations last year. For each complaint, citizens typically reported about five locations where illegal signs were erected. By the end of this year, code inspectors anticipate removing more than 21,000 illegal ROW signs. And that’s just scratching the surface of the problem.
Until recently, the volume and incidence of illegal signs that are erected each day simply exceeded the City’s dedicated resources to handle enforcement. Illegal ROW signs is just one of many types of code violations handled by the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department each day. Unfortunately, looking around Austin lately reveals a problem that is out of control.
City officials want to clean up the problem and in the process ? clean up Austin!
Where is the problem?
Sign violations occur throughout the City and are prevalent in public ROW, which are areas dedicated for streets, utilities or other public facilities.
Recent complaints indicate there are certain heavier hit areas in Austin for illegal signs. But the problem exists citywide. You will find these illegal signs practically everywhere. They are placed on utility poles, nailed to trees and stuck in the ground along busy streets, highways and medians all over Austin.
When does the problem occur?
Illegal postings of signs in the ROW most often occur during evening or early morning hours and on weekends. It’s common practice for businesses to contract with sign-installers who place these signs in strategic places across the City.
You may be wondering who is held responsible for these illegal signs? Section 25-10-103 of the Land Development Code states that “the primary beneficiary of any sign installed in violation with this section of the code is presumed to have authorized or caused the installation, use or maintenance of the sign?commits an offense.”
It’s a Class C misdemeanor. In many cases, the information listed on the sign reveals the identity or contact information for the primary beneficiary ? a business or property owner. In other cases, particularly those businesses outside of Austin, tracking down the primary beneficiary can be very difficult. Most of the violations occur because the public is just not aware that erecting signs in the public ROW is a violation of City ordinance.
City officials need your help spreading the word. And it all begins with educating the public about the City ordinance and what it means.
How is the City tackling the problem?
New solutions for an old problem! The City has taken a serious look at this problem and recently researched how other cities deal with bandit signs.
With the help of other City departments and citizen volunteers, the City will launch a collaborative plan to significantly reduce the number of illegal ROW signs throughout Austin.
City staff is taking action in several new ways:
The City has launched an aggressive public information and education campaign designed to educate the general public and key stakeholders about the sign ordinance. Staff will provide targeted educational outreach to the sign-making industry, local area businesses and groups posting temporary bandit signs in the public right of way to advertise a product, business location or event.
The City has cross-trained other departments that have crews already working in the public ROW to help remove illegal signs. The City now has additional resources other than code enforcement personnel to assist in removing illegal signs.
The City has launched a Volunteer Sign Ranger Program to get the community’s help as well. The program is possible through a new partnership with the Austin Police Department’s Community Liaison Office, which coordinates the recruitment and training of volunteers. Volunteers must complete intensive training and are highly visible to the public. Program uniforms and City identification are issued to volunteers who travel in City vehicles when on duty. Volunteers work throughout the year with City staff to remove illegal signs. Interested citizens are already signing up!
Keep Austin Beautiful has agreed to help sponsor, plan and organize the City’s first annual clean-up effort to focus primarily on removing illegal signs? the Great City Signoff.
The City has begun filing charges against businesses and individuals (repeat violators) who knowingly violate the sign ordinance. A violation of the sign ordinance is a Class C misdemeanor and carries fines up to $500 per violation.
What can you do to help?
Take a look around. There are probably bandit signs erected on intersections and along streets near your home.
Sign up for the Volunteer Sign Ranger Program to help rid your community of bandit signs and, in turn, clean up your neighborhood.
Participants in the program will receive training about sign regulations and how to identify and safely remove illegal signs. Volunteers will be required to follow City of Austin policies and procedures, similar to APD’s Abandoned Vehicle Tagger’s Volunteer Program.
Sign Rangers will have scheduled work hours and work in “buddy teams” or directly with code enforcement staff. They will be assigned to an area of Austin and have access to staff for guidance and supervision.
To become a Volunteer Sign Ranger, contact Sherry Mitchell, Austin Police Department, (512) 459- 4309; or Gloria Quinonez, Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department (512) 974-7673.
For more information about the City’s Sign Initiative or to report the location of illegal ROW signs, contact Jesse Washington, Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department, (512) 974-6576. E-mail information to email@example.com.