Harris County Attorney takes aim at bandit signs

Cypress Creek Mirror, Roy N. Kent

They can be seen at street corners everywhere, hawking goods and services and usually sporting a phone number.

Bandit signs say things like “We buy houses” or “Flood damage? We can help.” Bandit signs crop up immediately after any tragedy, preying on the needs of people. They sometimes advertise legitimate businesses.

Whatever they are doing, they are illegal.

At the recent Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Anne Culver of Scenic Houston and Bethany Dwyer of Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan’s office spoke about visual advertising along the highways and byways around the greater Houston region.

In talking with the assembled members of the chamber, Culver and Dwyer spoke about the need to cut down the instances of unregulated advertising.

“Scenic Houston has a mission of improving our streetscapes,” Culver said.

According to Culver, there wasn’t a sign ordinance in the city of Houston until 1980.

“There were about 15,000 billboards in the city of Houston. By 1985 there was a complete prohibition on new billboards,” Culver said. “No business had to shut down. It simply said there were enough billboards. We’re now at about 1,500-1,600 billboards. That is because of community pressure.”

Billboards are still coming down.

“There will be no new billboards posted in the greater Houston area,” Culver said. “In fact, billboards are being brought down on a near-daily basis. It is illegal to erect new billboards.”

For more information on Scenic Houston, go towww.scenichouston.org.

Meanwhile, the bandit sign problem is being met head-on by Dwyer, an assistant county attorney with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. Among her duties, she helps train “Bandit Rangers” to pull down the signs. With few exceptions, the signs are illegal to post.

“It goes to how a community looks,” Dwyer said. “We consider them litter. They are not safe. I don’t know about you all but I have had one hit my car.”

Dwyer said Vince Ryan’s office is very committed to getting rid of these signs.

“I’m amazed at how much this community has come forward and said ‘enough is enough,’” Dwyer said.

“If there is a sign up in a public right of way, it is an illegal sign. I don’t care who you talked to or who you got permission from, it’s illegal.”

To battle the sign problem, “you have to be either a licensed peace officer or you have to be certified by Commissioner’s Court” to take them down. Once you complete the one-hour training, you are certified to take the signs down.

“You can just go and throw them away,” Dwyer said.

Anyone who wants to become a Bandit Ranger or has a problem with bandit signs should contact Dwyer at Vince Ryan’s office at 713-274-5338, via email at Bethany.Dwyer@cao.hctx.net or visit www.harriscountycao.org.

For more information on the Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce, go to www.houstonnwchamber.org