Priscilla Occhivinti doesn’t remember exactly when hers first showed up. It’s been at least a year, maybe two. One day it wasn’t there; the next it was.
It doesn’t really do anything. It just stands there, conspicuously, on the corner in front of her Acadian-French Quarter cottage off West Esplanade Avenue in Metairie.
It’s a white fiberglass post, about 4 feet tall with a bright orange top.
It’s widely known as a “Q-tip,” and to many residents it’s about as welcome as having something stuck in your ear.
“It has no purpose whatsoever, other than (for) marking,” Occhivinti said Friday, standing in front of her home. “It could be cut down to here and still do the same thing. It absolutely doesn’t need to be this tall.”
Occhivinti knows it’s not really a big deal, but she said the post’s silent, persistent presence has a way of grating on you.
“We’re spending a lot of money to try to maintain the (property's) look, and, um, then there’s this thing,” she said. “Everybody that rides by gets to see it.”
Occhivinti isn’t alone. Q-tips have been cropping up in batches along rights of way — between the sidewalk and the street — throughout Jefferson Parish, as telecommunications contractors and others install lines under the ground and mark them so that anyone inclined to dig there doesn’t cut off service to customers.
The latest batch come courtesy of AT&T, which has installed fiber-optic cables for internet and phone service, and Parish Council members have been hearing about them.
“I’m getting calls from my district about these objects they’re putting in the right of way in front of people’s houses, and everyone is very upset about it,” Councilman Paul Johnston said at the council meeting Wednesday.
“I hate seeing those things,” Councilwoman Cynthia Lee-Sheng agreed. “They’re all over the parish. I still can’t figure out how we allowed that to happen.”
Council members Jennifer Van Vrancken and Ricky Templet said they also are getting calls.
Although homeowners don’t own the right of way in front of their property, they usually maintain it, and the space is as much a part of a house’s exterior as the yard is.
“Whether they spend $50,000 on a home or $350,000 on their home, they don’t want to come home in the evening and see (something) pop up between the sidewalk and the street,” Templet said.
The issue, Parish Attorney Mike Powers said, is that the parish has historically considered only existing infrastructure — water, sewer and drainage lines — when allowing a contractor to install something in the right of way.
Chief Operating Officer Keith Conley said the parish administration has been in contact with AT&T and is working with Powers' office to add extra steps to the permitting process.
Lee-Sheng created a committee last year to work on reducing the number of unnecessary signs that clutter the visual landscape in Jefferson Parish, and she said cutting down on Q-tips is part of that battle.
“I think you’re going to see more vigilance from this council,” she said, adding that the problem has built up because the parish doesn’t assert its aesthetic priorities as companies go about their work with an eye only on efficiency and their bottom line. “When you drive to other communities, you don’t see their rights of way as clogged up and cluttered as ours are.”
Asked for comment, AT&T issued a statement saying it would work with policymakers on the problem.
“As we work to bring faster internet speeds to customers in the area, we use markers to designate where fiber has been placed,” the company said. “We will continue to coordinate with the Parish Council and residents.”
Occhivinti said the need to mark underground lines is “100 percent understandable,” but her Q-tip could be a third as tall as it is and still accomplish its goal. Then she could put some plants or flowers around it to cover it up.
She said another post popped up down the street at the same time hers did, but one night it mysteriously disappeared. It was suggested someone must have knocked it down.
“Every now and then I get so aggravated with it and I think, ‘Maybe I could run over it like they did down there,’ ” she said, laughing. “ ‘Oops!’ ”
Of course, she has never followed through on that impulse.
Now Easter is coming again. The azaleas will be out, everything will be in bloom, and Occhivinti will decorate the house for the holiday.
And, of course, the Q-tip will be there, an unwelcome guest at the party.
“We'll make sure we don’t get it in any of our Easter pictures,” she said.