The battle against litter and blight in Baton Rouge was given another boost on Wednesday when the Metro Council approved a measure that should allow the city-parish to start taking down abandoned signs.
The ordinance targets not only temporary signs that can litter the city after events and elections, but also more permanent signs affixed to buildings or the ground that are left behind when a business closes.
“These types of signs tend to fade into the background as we drive around,” said Trey Godfrey, Baton Rouge Area Chamber senior vice president of policy. “Once you start noticing them, you can’t unsee them.”
BRAC lobbied the city-parish to update its ordinances after a resident filmed and photographed abandoned signs located across the parish and presented the materials to the organization and city-parish officials, Godfrey said.
The ordinance, unanimously approved during the council’s zoning meeting, gives city officials the power to deem a sign abandoned after 90 days if it doesn’t have a message, it’s in poor condition, or it’s pertaining to an event that has already happened or a business that’s no longer operating. The owner of the property where the sign is located will then be given 15 days to remove it or face fines and the city-parish removing the sign at the property owners’ expense.
While the enforcement is handled by the city-parish, the effectiveness of the ordinance will largely depend on resident reports of abandoned signs to the city-parish 311 line, councilman Rowdy Gaudet said.
Gaudet agreed with Godfrey that abandoned signs tend to melt into the landscape of the city and degrade overall quality of life. After being made aware of the issue, Gaudet went on a drive around his district with an eye out for abandoned signs and reported several to 311, he said.
“I had never given specific attention to the visual queue you get when you see an outdated sign in front of a business that’s no longer operating,” Gaudet said. “The more that are allowed to remain, the more negative perception it gives of the community.”
The ordinance is the latest of a series of efforts by the city-parish to target litter and blight in the parish. In recent years, community cleanup groups have been organized, Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome launched the Brighten Up Baton Rouge Task Force of businesses seeking solutions for litter, and the Metro Council has passed multiple ordinances targeted at various elements of litter and blight.
The recent attention to beautification should propel the sign ordinance by prompting residents to report blighted signs to 311, Godfrey said.
“What we learn about a lot of the deeper issues that we deal with is there’s no one entity that can solve everything,” Godfrey said. “The vehicle that will fix the issue is the city-parish, but they can’t do it alone.”
BRAC is working with the city-parish to craft more ordinances that will give the city-parish tools to target abandoned signs and other types of blight while momentum is on its side, Godfrey said.
“Giving the community agency to be able to report things and the city-parish the tools to be able to respond and react appropriately is crucial,” Godfrey said.