Signs of bad governance can be seen all over unincorporated Pima County in metro Tucson.
The signs in question are not the deteriorated roads throughout the county, or the pitiful landscaping along roads, or the infrequent vegetation maintenance, street sweeping and litter pick-up.
Yes, these are signs of bad governance, but this deferred maintenance has gone on for so long that the county now has the excuse that the cost of rectifying the conditions is prohibitive. This is not the case with the signs in question.
The signs in question are actual signs, or more specifically, the hundreds of tacky, makeshift signs and banners in front of offices, retail stores, apartments, and strip malls—signs that are in clear violation of the sign regulations detailed in Chapter 18.79 of the Pima County Code of Ordinances. The regulations explain what kinds of signs are allowed and not allowed, what the permitting process is for new signs, how enforcement is supposed to work, and the fines that can be levied for violations.
Other communities of varying sizes and socioeconomic demographics have similar regulations, but what makes them different from Pima County is that the ones with a national reputation for economic and social vitality enforce their sign standards. Officials and citizens in these places realize that sign standards are important in making their locales attractive for not only themselves but also for visitors and high-wage companies that want to locate to a place with a good image.
The lack of enforcement by the county has triggered an arms race in illegal signs, with businesses bereft of civic pride seemingly trying to outdo each other in the size, number and ugliness of the signs.
Apparently, the county hasn’t learned from history—from the time decades ago that Life Magazine (equivalent to today’s CNN and Fox News in audience) said that Speedway Blvd. in Tucson was the ugliest street in America. Judging by the ugliness of county roads, the board of supervisors wants to take the prize away from Tucson.
To see the extent of the problem, imagine that you are a visitor from metro Phoenix or a tourist who drove to Tucson on Interstate 10 and exited at the attractive new interchange at Ina to get to one of the resorts along Ina, Skyline or Sunrise. If you drive east through unincorporated county on this heavily-traveled route, from the Marana city limit to Sabino Canyon Rd., you’ll see homemade signs in front of home-based businesses, makeshift plastic banners 20 feet long attached to crooked poles in front of apartment complexes, and non-conforming advertising signs of all sizes, shapes and materials in front of retail establishments.
Based on a rough count, there are at least one hundred such signs along this one route. If that sounds like hyperbole, a single strip mall on Ina near Shannon has about ten of them.
The clutter is even worse along Orange Grove, especially between 1st Ave. and La Cholla. Just about every business and apartment complex has multiple “temporary” signs and banners, oftentimes right alongside attractive brick and stone monuments at their entrances that do conform to county sign regulations. Clearly, the business establishments that go through the expense and trouble of obtaining sign permits and constructing attractive signage have to join the arms race or be at a competitive disadvantage to the establishments that ignore the regulations.
Of course, no one wins the arms race, whether the violators or the public.
DB Homes, Inc. is a major violator, not only in the county but also in the city. It sticks three-foot tall directional/advertising signs in public rights-of-way about every quarter-mile for miles, pointing the way to its new housing developments. Examples can be seen on the south side of Orange Grove near the intersection with Oracle. One wonders if the company is in bed with local politicians, as it does this with impunity.
Illegal signs are even abundant in supposed classy areas. For example, on Sunrise near the La Paloma Country Club is a Class A office building, where tenants include a well-known real estate company, a financial firm, and an urgent care facility, all of which place multiple sandwich-board signs on the shoulder of Sunrise, as if they are selling hotdogs at a carnival instead of professional services.
The county sets the example for poor taste by allowing scores of cheesy advertising benches in the weeds along roadsides. The gaudy, dusty benches masquerade as bus stops at locations where no one ever sits in the blazing sun and where buses don’t run.
Anyone who thinks that all of this tacky clutter is normal and not noticed by visitors from thriving, well-managed cities doesn’t get out much.
Not surprisingly, the county has not enforced its sign regulations for so long that it has created a dilemma for itself. First, there are now so many signs that the problem seems overwhelming; second, there would be an outcry from irresponsible business owners if the county suddenly began doing what it should’ve been doing all along.
The way out of the dilemma is for the county to notify business establishments in writing or through public media that by a given date, it will be enforcing sign regulations and fining violators, so that the miscreants have time to remove the signs to avoid a fine.
This would be a twofer, because the revenue from fines levied against those who don’t heed the warning could then be used to pay for road repairs.