A Bad Sign On DSNY’s Handling Of Illegal Signs
Last month, the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association (WRBA) issued a report after four years of work regarding illegal postings. We found that the agency responsible for handling them, the Department of Sanitation (DSNY), was failing at its job.
We’ve all seen illegal postings: they’re signs and stickers on lampposts, utility poles, and other public property. They offer to purchase junk cars, advertise mortgage modifications, and tout other commercial transactions. The postings are ugly, they deface public property, they disadvantage law-abiding businesses that pay for their advertising, they can be a hazard by distracting drivers and pedestrians, they add to a sense of disorder in a community, and they’re often used by scammers.
They have been a problem in Woodhaven, but they’re also a citywide affliction. Tens of thousands of complaints regarding illegal postings have been made over the past few years.
DSNY tells residents to call 311 to report illegal postings. We at the WRBA put the system to the test. Since 2012, we logged 164 requests to report 142 separate instances of illegal posting. Over 63 percent of our 311 requests were addressed inadequately, meaning that the posting either was not removed at all or was mostly left intact.
Of the postings Sanitation claimed to have addressed, more than half of them were either not removed (47 percent) or were only partly removed, meaning a significant portion of the sign or sticker remained (7 percent).
Troublingly, nearly 28 percent of our 311 requests regarding illegal postings this year appear never to have reached Sanitation at all. Their 311 status was never updated.
The WRBA discovered that when Sanitation personnel do remove illegal signs and stickers, they often take shortcuts instead of thoroughly removing the postings. For example, it appears that DSNY often places a piece of tape to cover some digits of the phone number on an illegal posting, and otherwise leaves the posting. That means that the posting remains an eyesore, and the piece of tape can also easily be removed.
When the WRBA met with DSNY brass regarding this issue, they of course denied that they were failing to do their job well. They claimed they were not actually responsible for removal, only prosecution of offenders. Then, just minutes later, they noted that prosecution is nearly impossible because most of the phone numbers on the illegal postings are untraceable cell phones. Set aside the fact that you can call the numbers and hold sting operations to catch those who will benefit from the ads. It raises another question: If DSNY is doing a poor job taking down the signs, and it’s also largely ineffective at prosecution, what exactly is it doing regarding this issue?
And, if not DSNY, who is responsible for taking down the signs? Other city agencies, according to DSNY. If the posting is on MTA property, DSNY routes the complaint to MTA. If it’s on Department of Transportation property, DSNY refers the issue to the DOT. The result: when DSNY passes the buck, the ads remain in place for days, weeks, months, or permanently.
Worse still, there’s no way for residents to keep track of what’s going on. When DSNY passes the buck, it changes the 311 status to indicate the complaint has been either “addressed,” “removed,” or not “found.” So as far as residents can tell, the issue has been handled, which is untrue. Why? Well according to DSNY, it’s 311’s fault, not theirs. More passing of the buck.
DSNY’s consistent avoidance of responsibility demonstrates why so many problems in this city go unsolved for so long. This lack of accountability and fingerpointing would be unacceptable in most other settings.
The losing war against illegal postings is just another example of why New Yorkers should be discouraged by how poorly some of their city’s agencies are serving them.
Editor’s note: The next Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association meeting is on Saturday, Nov. 15, noon at the American Legion Hall, located at 89-02 91st St. Blenkinsopp is a member of Community Board 9 and director of communications for the WRBA. For additional information on the WRBA, visit www.woodhaven-nyc.org.