The placing of fliers, signs and posters around the city is an easy — and often free — means of advertising. Taping up signs for a missing pet or stapling a sign on a telephone pole pointing passersby in the direction of a garage sale is seemingly harmless but the line is fine.
“Forest Hills, south of Queens Boulevard has a long tradition of garage sales in the warmer weather,” Jon Torodash, a community activist and candidate for City Council, said. “These are often advertised by what are probably illegally posted but generally well-tolerated signs. Often we’ll also see fliers about missing pets.”
Recently, a series of posters advertising a day camp at Queens Gymnasia in Elmhurst were taped on trees along 69th Road in Forest Hills.
When asked to comment, an unidentified gentleman who answered the phone at the school said he did not know signs had been taped to trees in Forest Hills and that he would look into the issue and call back. He never did.
A few of the signs have since been ripped down. The distinction of what is considered a well-tolerated sign and a quality-of-life issue is, however, debatable.
According to the Department of Sanitation, “It is illegal for any person to affix any handbill, poster, notice, sign, advertisement, sticker or other printed material upon any tree by any means.”
Violators of this law face a $150 to $200 fine for first-time offenses. Second and subsequent offenses bump the fine up to a range of $300 to $550.
“I think if someone punctured humans with a foreign object that wasn’t sterile, it would cause an infection, and it’s the same thing with trees,” Michael Perlman, a Forest Hills resident and civic leader, said. “The tree trunk should remain intact and taken care of, and people are punching holes with staples and using them as bulletin boards. The trees could develop some kind of infection as well.”
According to arborist and Queens resident Carsten Glaeser, while damage from a nail or staple is possible, it is unlikely.
“It’s like with any living thing, too much of anything can cause damage,” he said. “I have never seen any major destruction to a tree that was caused by a staple. But I am focusing on the bigger issue of the damage being done to our trees from construction to over-pruning, and while staples are not a good thing, I don’t want them to distract us from the other heinous acts against these trees. The solution is just to use tape. A non-intrusive adhesive that won’t break the bark.”
Damage from a staple or nail is more likely when one is put into a young or sick tree.
Even if posters may not cause much damage, they can reduce the quality of life in certain areas.
“It detracts from the area, it’s unsightly,” Perlman said. “Green spaces and trees are complementary to the architecture in the area. We’re trying to acknowledge the big picture and preserve mature trees, especially ones with staples and nails and thumb tacks in them which can be damaging in the long term.”
“The neighborhood you’re talking about is generally pretty clean and doesn’t have major trash issues,” Torodash said. “I would just say that local residents who like to post signs are walking a fine line from those commercial signs that are placed around other areas.”
Of these commercial signs, the “Cash for Cars” advertisements are among the more controversial. Councilman and borough president candidate Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) says he is trying to eliminate the problem.
“This is a huge quality-of-life problem in my district and in all of Queens,” he said. “We’ve already spoken with the head of the Department of Sanitation and they have been working with us to remove the signs, but the problem is that as soon as they come down, they go right back up.”
The Cash for Cars signs appear all over the city, mostly on telephone poles and lampposts, promising $300 or more in cash in exchange for junk cars.
“We’ve done some research on these cash for cars businesses and other businesses that post up signs, and many of them are located in the Midwest, so now it becomes an even bigger issue. There needs to be action taken beyond the city level. This needs to go to the federal level and in the meantime, we should stop patronizing these people because it’s contributing to the mess we see around our neighborhoods.”
While Vallone is looking to remove illegally posted signs, he said he understands that not every case warrants a fine.
“You don’t want to capture people who are putting up a sign for a garage sale or missing pet for a day and then taking it down but you do want to go after people who leave signs all over a neighborhood and do not take them down. It’s a problem that’s getting out of control. Every time we look up there’s another sign posted.”
Torodash had similar thoughts.
“This issue is really a moving target. I think Jamaica is a larger problem and I would say that places in Maspeth where the feeling is more industrial and people aren’t strolling down the street as often,” he said. “It begins to walk a fine line when you’re talking about an area like Forest Hills. Cracking down begs the question of what you’re trying to solve. I think residents need to tread lightly and there needs to be greater clarification over what we will and will not tolerate.”
“The people who do this kind of advertising either aren’t educated and are ignorant of the issue or they just don’t care about it,” Perlman said.
Vallone said he is not confident that federal action will happen anytime soon but encouraged anyone who sees an unwanted sign posted on a tree, telephone pole, lamppost or other public property to report it to 311 or the Department of Sanitation.