Fight blight in 2013

Fight blight in 2013

There is a move afoot by the Department of Public Works and the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority to fight blight with their focus on abandoned houses and vacant lots. I applaud the initiative, because as a taxpayer I am not interested in paying to take care of someone else's property. Sell it, maintain it, use it—or lose it. We don't want to have to mow your grass or see drug dealers crash for the night. When that happens, the owner or owners become part of the problem and should be held accountable.

But I want to suggest that the new, strict anti-blight program be expanded to local commercial property and businesses as well, specifically in regards to abandoned signage. This is simply “sight pollution,” and it is just as ugly and distasteful as trash in the street or abandoned homes in our neighborhoods. Someone is not taking care of their business, and there is no excuse. Where is their community pride?

Check out some of the photos on this page. I could have run pages of examples, eyesores you have seen all over town. Sure, some of these signs were damaged by hurricanes, but that was four or even seven years ago, and business is good in Baton Rouge. They should be repaired or removed. And that certainly goes for closed or abandoned businesses. Owners should sell the business and let the new owner repair the sign. Six months after damage or abandonment, the owner should be required to remove the sign or cover it with a vinyl sign. (Maybe it should read “We love Baton Rouge.”) But doing nothing is unacceptable, and there should be consequences.

For the anti-blight program, it seems inspectors will be actively looking for code violations. The same could apply with cleaning up signs, as it is easy to spot violators. And the owners could be given notice or have their signs removed. The city could then put a lien on the building or fine the business if it is operating. Removed signs could be sold for scrap.

Currently, the city-parish has hundreds of properties where they mow grass and provide maintenance as often as four times a year, costing taxpayers thousands of dollars. That's not right. There are many abandoned and damaged signs as well, which makes for unsightly commercial areas and reflects poorly on the neighboring businesses and our city.

The reason we need stricter enforcement is to make owners bring their properties back into compliance with the code. Simply be responsible and maintain your property. That's not too much to ask. And if you can't, sell it or donate it. But don't abandon it—or the city-parish is going to do something about it on behalf of the community.

There are other cities that run successful programs addressing this problem of blight, and there is no reason we can't get started here in 2013. But let's make sure we address abandoned properties and abandoned signs.

Blight must be tackled by owners, neighborhood associations, merchant associations, residential and commercial realtors, chambers of commerce, the Metro Council and the mayor-president. It's the responsible thing to do. Our parents taught us that. Let's clean up our act—and our image.

Raising the bar

I know I write a lot about change, choice and competition in my column. But I believe they are all important drivers in our future and that each should be embraced. I also believe they can raise the bar and make our institutions, businesses and each of us personally better.

Two recent examples make the point that strong competition makes everyone better and value increase. (And often, it should be noted, we don't change or get better until we have to.)

The first example was the final BCS ranking for 2012. It reads like this:?1. Notre Dame; 2. Alabama; 3. Florida; 4. Oregon; 5. Kansas State; 6. Stanford; 7. Georgia; 8. LSU; 9. Texas A&M; 10. South Carolina. You can see what stands out: the SEC, with five (or half) of the Top 10 teams. Amazing. And as you know, the last six national champions have been from the SEC. (And I predict that will be seven.)

The other example happened on a Sunday, nine days before Christmas. As she looked out the window of our home, my wife said, “I didn't know the post office worked on Sunday.” I exclaimed, “What?”—thinking she must have mistaken a FedEx truck for the USPS. But then I heard a knock at the front door and opened it to find two packages on the doorstep and a postal carrier walking back to her van.

Eyes bugging, I yelled out, “I didn't know you all work on Sunday.” She said with a smile, “We deliver packages.” I was impressed. Did you think you would ever see the USPS delivering on Sunday? (And do you think they would have if not for the choices provided by FedEx, UPS and DHL?)

Who is your new competitor in 2013 that is going to offer your customers and clients a choice? They can force you to change, like the USPS did—or you can get out in front. Here's wishing you a prosperous and happy new year as you make your choices and raise the bar.

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