Phoenix city leaders want to tone down the clutter of signs around town. CBS5 has discovered a controversial program in the works to solve the issue that could cost taxpayers more than it's worth.
Many businesses erect signs illegally to attract customers. A possible initiative to crack down on illegal signage would cost the city money, but CBS5 has learned the plan won't necessarily force businesses to shape up.
In a city that's risen up through a desert, business signs may outnumber the cacti that dot our landscape.
"There are areas of Phoenix where illegal signage is a major problem," said Charlie Gibson, head of the Arizona Sign Association.
Phoenix city leaders have identified a photo technology that could help fix the problem, but there are privacy concerns the plan would be too invasive.
The city of Phoenix Sign Enforcement Pilot Program would take thousands of street level pictures and match them up with city records that include sign permits to see which businesses are following the law and which ones are not.
"They could go through in seconds what would take a person hours and identify each individual thing," said Gibson, who is among a group the city has tapped to review proposals.
The pilot program idea came about when Phoenix was approached by CityScan, a Chicago-based company that has developed a street-mapping software that correlates photos with records and permits.
"I think it's wrong for the city of Phoenix to be doing this," said Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio.
Diciccio told CBS5 he believes the pilot program is big brother going too far.
"The idea with enforcement is to get people to voluntarily comply. It's not meant to create this heavy hand of government coming in and looking after every aspect of their business," DiCiccio said.
"Right now, enforcement is the biggest problem. Umm, they generally don't," said Gibson.
Gibson said finding illegal signs is one thing, but getting the city to do something about it is another.
There are very few people employed by the city to handle illegal sign enforcement. Those who do have that as part of their job description also work in the Phoenix Department of Neighborhood Services, processing permits and handling customer service duties.
Phoenix will only dispatch them to investigate and issue possible citations if a citizen phones in a tip about possible illegal signage.
The Phoenix Department of Neighborhood Services disagrees with Gibson's assertion that there is a lack of illegal sign enforcement.
A spokeswoman told CBS5 that in 2013 there were 117 citations handed out for sign ordinance violators.
If and when the pilot program begins, the same spokeswoman said, "Staff will issue letters to business and property owners. The letters will seek compliance with the sign code, but at this time no citations will be given."
The program could cost as much as $30,000 to implement city-wide.
DiCiccio wants entire council voting to approve the pilot because of privacy concerns.
A city spokeswoman says the sign enforcement pilot program has not been put on an agenda for city officials to discuss or vote on.
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