Battle for SLO supervisor seat prompts illegal signs
April 16, 2014
By JOSH FRIEDMAN
A sitting San Luis Obispo County supervisor seeking to keep her seat has dozens of campaign signs placed on county and state property in violation of the law.
Typically, candidates get permission from supporters to place signs on private property. Campaign signs are not permitted on public lands such as parks or public right of ways like highway on-ramps.
Last week, supporters of Supervisor Caren Ray placed campaign signs on public property spanning much of southern San Luis Obispo County, where her district is located. Ray, whom Governor Jerry Brown appointed last year to fill a vacant seat on the board of supervisors, is running for election against Nipomo businesswoman Lynn Compton and Arroyo Grande real estate broker Mike Byrd. The district encompasses all of Nipomo and Oceano and some of Arroyo Grande.
Dozens of Ray’s signs popped up in strategic South County locations, including along Tefft Street in Old Town Nipomo, Willow Road on the Nipomo Mesa and Los Berros Road in rural Arroyo Grande. Ray supporters also attached her signs to freeway fencing and next to on and off-ramps, a violation of state regulations.
Ray said Monday that her volunteers placed the signs in the public locations, and her campaign staff is deciding what to do about them.
“Some of our volunteers, it appears, got a little over zealous, and we’re figuring out what to do with them right now,” Ray said.
The state of California owns land adjacent to Highway 101 up and down the freeway, and Caltrans maintains the property. Caltrans spokesman Colin Jones said the agency has received a few complaints about political signs and that it would take down signs deemed in violation of the law.
The county, however, controls most of the right of ways on which Ray’s signs have been wrongly placed. County transportation planner Glenn Marshall said the county’s public works department received three complaints about political signs, prompting him to send a worker out Monday to investigate. The county worker found that each of the three candidates had signs placed in right of ways, Marshall said.
Compton said she never had any signs in right of ways.
“We have permission for every sign,” Compton said. “Every single one is on private property.”
Byrd said he briefly had several signs placed in Nipomo right of ways. A supporter of his positioned them next to Ray’s signs thinking it was legal to do so, Byrd said.
“When he saw all of Caren’s, he assumed, she being a supervisor, that they were all in legal places,” Byrd said.
Less than a day later, the volunteer took down the signs, Byrd said.
In the past, the county has rounded up numerous political signs placed in right of ways and stored them in its road maintenance yard. It has been common practice to do so, Marshall said.
But, the county has made no indication yet that it plans to remove any of the signs currently standing in right of ways. On Monday, a public works employee sent an email to candidates reminding them of campaign sign regulations.
Before removing signs, the county sends candidates three notifications of code violations, Marshall said.
County code, however, only allows candidates to have signs standing in the 60 days leading up to the election, as well as the 14 days following. The 2014 primary election will take place on June 3.
Some supporters of Compton allege that Marshall is using his position to aid the campaign of Ray. As a county supervisor, Ray is one of the highest ranking officials in the agency in which Marshall is employed.
Marshall also serves as a member of the Grover Beach City Council. Last December, Marshall voted to boot Mayor Debbie Peterson from the county air pollution control district board after receiving pressure to do so from Supervisor Adam Hill, a close ally of Ray’s.
Marshall said he does not support candidates.
“I don’t support any candidate,” Marshall said. “I have never given any support to anyone ever.”
While the county has not pressed the issue, many Compton signs also appear to violate code. A section of the county code restricts the size of signs placed in urban areas of unincorporated communities like Nipomo and Oceano. The code limits sign sizes to four square feet in residential areas and 16 square feet in commercial areas of those towns.
Compton has numerous 32-square-foot signs, many of which are in core areas of Oceano.
She said she would take the signs down if the county deems them out of compliance with code.
“If they are in violation, I will take them down immediately,” Compton said. “I want to follow the law.”
Marshall said the county has not investigated political sign sizes this election season.
Critics of Compton have also accused her of violating a little known state law restricting the placement of signs near highways. The code prohibits the placement of campaign signs within 660 of landscaped sections of freeways.
However, no area of Highway 101 in San Luis Obispo County south of the Arroyo Grande Village is designated a landscaped section, according to Caltrans.