Fed up with the proliferation of illegal posters advertising miracle diets and get-rich-quick schemes along the main traffic arteries of Queens Village and Bellerose, two civic leaders have decided to take matters into their own hands.
Rick Duskiewicz, president of the Creedmoor Civic Association, and Mike Augugliaro, from the Queens Colony Civic Association, began tearing down signs along Hillside, Braddock and Jamaica Avenues early one Saturday morning last month.
“Since there appears to be little or no enforcement of the laws that make these signs illegal, they’re becoming more and more common,” Duskiewicz said. “I figured it was time to do something about it.”
Armed with a ladder and some tools, they began by driving from pole to pole, but soon discovered so many signs that it was easier to walk. In a few hours, they had pulled down 80 signs.
Near a telephone pole on Jamaica Avenue, a police officer stopped and asked them what they were doing. When Augugliaro answered that they were removing signs that were illegally posted, the officer replied, “Oh, they are?” “That helps to explain why these ads are so common,” Duskiewicz said.
The decision to take the signs down was a last resort, because removing the signs also removes the evidence that would allow the Department of Sanitation to issue summonses to the companies that put them up.
“Of course I’d rather see them get summonses, but it’s a form of graffiti, and after a while it brings down the neighborhood,” Augugliaro said.
An employee of the Department of Sanitation for 24 years, the retired Augugliaro said that he and Duskiewicz got tired of going to town hall meetings and hearing Sanitation give excuses for why it can’t issue summonses for the signs.
“How long does it take, if one of them spots a sign, to write down the location? If part of Sanitation’s job is to give out summonses for illegal signs, they should make it their business to jot it down and do whatever has to be done,” he added.
Duskiewicz claims that he has reported at least 10 illegal signs to Sanitation over five months ago, and more than half have remained.
Sanitation spokesman John Pamplone said the foremen always note the location and contents of illegal signs when they see them, but because the phone numbers on the signs are often local foils for out-of-state companies, tracing the perpetrator can take several months.
To help expedite this process, Councilman David Weprin passed a bill six months ago to give Sanitation subpoena power to track phone records. “It allows them to go after the real perpetrators, which are these mass marketing firms,” Weprin said.
The legislation also nearly doubled the fines for illegal posting—it is now $100 per sign—and quadrupled the fines for posting on live trees.
But not everyone thinks upping fines is an effective way of dealing with the problem. “It doesn’t matter if the fine is $50 or $5,000. No one enforces it,” said Frank Skala, president of the East Bayside Homeowners Association. He often walks down Bell Boulevard, ripping down signs as he goes. “It’s visual pollution,” he said.
Although removing signs impedes Sanitation’s ability to do its job, Pamplone said he understands the signs are “unsightly” and doesn’t fault residents for wanting them down.
Duskiewicz further justifies the cleanup effort with a theory that signs breed more signs, saying, “I believe that the people who are putting up signs feel that there’s not going to be any problem with their signs up there because they see other people with their signs. So we thought we would cure the problem by taking them down.”
He and Augugliaro are planning another outing once the snow melts, this time with clipboards for tracking locations and phone numbers. They will give the list of offenders to Weprin’s office, who they hope will pass them on to the Department of Sanitation.They think this strategy will get the department to pay more attention to the problem and issue more summonses.