Monday, September 22, 2008

Campaign signs posted illegally in hotly contested Richmond council race

With Election Day six weeks away, campaign signs are once again peppering front lawns, windows, roadways, poles and other spots around town as Richmond City Council candidates try to grab voters' attention and residents show their support.

But some signs have been posted in places where they should not be. City officials earlier this month sent letters to two candidates, Jovanka Beckles and Jeff Ritterman, as well as the supporters of the manufacturers' fee initiative Measure T, telling them not to post signs illegally.

"At the time your nomination packet was issued to you, you were clearly informed that it is illegal for candidates to post campaign signs on city property and in the city's and state's right of ways. All of the signs listed above were illegally posted and have been removed," the city wrote in its letters.

Beckles and Ritterman say they will obey the law and tell supporters not to put signs where they should not go.

"Once we received a complaint, we issued a statement and an e-mail to our volunteers asking them to comply with the regulations," Ritterman said. "We have also pasted stickers on the backs of signs cautioning volunteers to only place them in areas designated for them."

Beckles said she will do the same, particularly so supporters who are not campaign volunteers but pick up signs at events will know the rules. She added that she's seen signs posted by Realtors, private companies and local groups that Advertisementshe believes violate the city's rules; those, too, should be removed, she said.

Richmond's municipal code prohibits political signs in the public right of way, which includes street medians, utility poles and fences bordering public sidewalks. Signs are allowed on front lawns and on the windows of private properties, with the owner's permission.

Beckles and Ritterman are among 10 candidates competing for three seats on the council in November. The others are incumbents Nat Bates, Tom Butt, John Marquez and Harpreet Sandhu; and challengers Corky Booze, Rock Brown, Navdeep Garcha and Chris Tallerico.

Tallerico has been among those complaining about sign violations this year. He said he also complained about illegally posted signs in the 2006 election and in other past elections in which he was not running for office.

"I think they're blight. They break loose, they fall on the ground and people don't pick them up," Tallerico said.

It also creates an unfair playing field when some candidates have campaign signs in public areas while others do not, he added

Sign violations are not unusual during elections. Two years ago, City Clerk Diane Holmes sent letters to mayoral candidates Irma Anderson, Gary Bell and Gayle McLaughlin to ask them to stop riddling the city with illegally posted signs or they'd be stuck with the cleanup bills.

The candidates said then that supporters who were not familiar with the city law were posting them in inappropriate places.

In Hercules in 2004, some council candidates were accused of not obeying the city's sign law, which establishes a handful of locations on public property where each candidate can put up one sign. In Dublin in May, two candidates for Alameda County Superior Court judge were ordered to remove illegally posted signs on light poles and entrances to shopping areas.

In Richmond, public works crews have been removing illegally posted campaign signs when they see them. New signs often pop up two or three days later, Holmes said.

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