Advertising sign clutter a never-ending problem

It seems like every patch of grass along Johnston Street has a little advertising sign stuck in it, soliciting customers for lawn care businesses, tax preparation, discount mattresses, cheap cell phones, nail salons and all manner of products and services.

“They are so prevalent that I think many people don’t even know they’re illegal,” City-Parish Chief Development Officer Kevin Blanchard said.

Indeed, new signs seem to pop up every day, congregating at intersections and climbing up utility poles.

One could easily count hundreds of them along Johnston Street, but they can be found throughout the city.

And if those signs are in a public right-of-way or on public property — such as a utility pole — they are almost always considered illegal under local law.

In 2008, when city-parish government was actively targeting the so-called “snipe signs,” crews with local government collected some 5,000 of the things.

That enforcement effort, city-parish officials admit, has tapered off, mainly because there are not enough staff members to go out every week to pull down the signs, and the effort to take someone to court to enforce fines for illegal signs can be cumbersome.

City-Parish Zoning Manager Jim Parker said the enforcement strategy is to educate businesses about the existing sign law.

“Our goal is to resolve the situation out of court,” Parker said.

Still, the signs keep coming.

“The city is overwhelmed as far as signs go,” said Karl Kline, a member of a community group in north Lafayette that has been battling illegal signs in that area for about three years. “It just starts to look like a flea market.”

Blanchard said a plan is coming together that would call on more-focused efforts to address illegal signs, litter and a wide range of other sometimes overlooked issues that generally fall under the category of beautification.

“It’s not just the sign thing. It’s not just the litter thing. It’s the whole package of how we present ourselves,” Blanchard said.

City-parish government is developing a so-called “comprehensive plan” to serve as a guidebook for growth and development in the coming decades.

Blanchard said litter and illegal signs were central issues that emerged in community forums held for input on that plan.

While cleaning up the city might be seen simply as an aesthetic endeavour, he said, it could have a real effect on the local economy, because tourists and business owners seeking to relocate here notice the trash and clutter.

“I think because we see it every day, we’ve gotten used to it, but it’s a big problem,” Blanchard said.

He said the goal is to bring together community groups, business leaders, the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission, L afayette Economic Development Authority and others to figure out how best to tackle the issue and what resources might be available, both public and private.

They have their work cut out for them.

Kline, who is part of the Northeast Gateway Coterie community group, said he and others have had some success in keeping the sign problem in check in the area of north Lafayette along Gloria Switch Road, Louisiana Avenue and Moss Street, but only after three years of constant vigilance, including meeting with business owners and patrol ling to remove offending signs.

Kline said some business owners are defensive when approached, and some have tried to adapt and figure out ways to keep their signs safe.

When the community group began yanking signs f rom utility poles, companies moved them higher, using a ladder to raise the sign out of reach , then securing it with large bolts, Kline said.

He said a garden rake or hoe can usually pick the signs off.

David Begneaud, part of another small g roup in Lafayette that has taken up the sign issue, also has n oticed the trend of signs moving higher and higher up utility poles.

“When do they do it? When does somebody go out with a ladder and go 12 feet up a pole?” he wondered.

Begneaud b lames the sign problem in part on a lack of awareness about the local sign law and in part on a feeling among business owners that “everybody else is doing it.”

Begneaud said his group has removed thousands of signs.

Sometimes it seems the numbers are dropping off, he said, but then a seasonal wave hits — tax preparation, summer camps, lawn care.

What ’s worse, he said, is that many of the businesses never both er to return to pick up the temporary signs.

“You find just as many lying on the ground or lying in the bushes as you do standing up,” Begneaud said.

Blanchard said he expects to have some plan of attack before the end of the year with the details to be worked out in the coming months.

Some aspects of it , such as dedicating staff to the issue or beefing up enforcement , might need council action, but he said much could probably be accomplished by improving awareness and getting the business community more involved.

“I don’t want to assume that what we need is more money and more people,” Blanchard said.