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Community CommentaryOpinion

Election signs, the Boogieman and spin doctors

Ever since incorporation, the city of Encinitas has specified exactly where, when, and how campaign signs can be displayed. Encinitas’ Municipal Code (EMC) devotes a separate Chapter 2 to campaign regulations. Section 2.16.040 limits the period during which campaign signs can be displayed to 30 days before and to three days after an election. Regulations limiting display times stand on their own merit. They have remained unchanged since 1997 and have been enforced by the city.

Recently, candidates who wanted to clutch an unfair advantage over competitors in local elections have challenged such time constraints, claiming that they “abridge” a person’s free speech and thus violate the first Constitutional Amendment. Examples are Escondido Council candidate Rick Paul who placed a sign in his front yard eight months before the November election, and Encinitas Council candidate Catherine Blakespear who planted campaign signs all over Encinitas four months before the election.

Out of fear of being sued, our Encinitas City Council responded to this challenge by adopting Ordinance 2014-03, which superficially changed the title of Section 2.16.040 from “Campaign Signs” to “Unlimited Political and/or Other Noncommercial Message Signs.” Such a change was inappropriate in a Chapter dealing specifically with Campaign Regulations only.

The change left the 33 day display limit intact but made an unspecified and obscure connection to EMC Section 30.60.020G, which defines a “temporary sign” as one which is “in place or visible for the duration of a temporary use or six months, WHICHEVER IS LESS” (emphasis mine). Clearly, the temporary use of campaign signs is still defined in Section 2.16.040 as 33 days and is not six months.

The new Ordinance is also alleged by council and city staff to refer to the unrelated old Ordinance 2008-15, which deals with substitution of a legally existing commercial or noncommercial message by any other noncommercial message. Election campaign signs are a special type of political advertising, wherein candidates promote themselves for public office. They do not readily fit into the commercial or noncommercial categories. No mention of promotional campaign messages masquerading as noncommercial messages is made in the 2008 Ordinance.

We question the sanity, wisdom, and backbone of our city council, when they cave in to candidates who refuse to play by the rules, and when they try to accommodate special interests by making foolish changes to the EMC. If some candidates feel their free speech rights are violated by a 33-day limit on temporary campaign signs, then they should still feel violated by a six-month limit and by the prohibition of campaign signs on public property.

To fix this in a half-witted fashion is no solution. I applaud the stance taken by Escondido Councilman John Masson, who referred to candidate Rick Paul’s refusal to take his sign down by stating that, “We are running to become Council members and uphold the laws of Escondido. (Paul) is running for City Council and he is already breaking the city’s rules.”

Dietmar Rothe is a Cardiff-By-The-Sea resident.  


Sign Sign, Everywhere a Sign August 14, 2014 at 1:14 pm

If Julie Graboi and her backers honestly believe that the sign ordinance is being violated, then the only ethical course is to raise a challenge in court, AND continue to honor the 30 day limit.

If instead the Graboi campaign rushes off to the sign printer and we start seeing Graboi signs soon, then we’ll know that Julie either didn’t read the rules, didn’t understand them, or simply wasn’t prepared and organized.

Voters can draw their own conclusions about how these traits would affect Julie’s ability to effectively serve constituents as a council member.

Encinitas4real August 14, 2014 at 5:30 pm

Wow! Sounds like Andreen rode on back I not town from his new home in Oceanside to stir up trouble again. After all Balkespear didn’t recall whether she had voted for or against Prop A but since her buddies Barth, Shaffer and Kranz all were against it after they were for it that all fits. And good ol Andreen worked hard to defeat Prop A so I’m sure Blakespear is just his cup of tea. Welcome back. I guess you’re now called Sign, Sign Everywhere a Sign. Looks like Oceanside politics are too rough for you.

Connect the Dots August 14, 2014 at 10:36 am

Referring to comments by Ms. Blakespear and by “Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign:”

They have obviously not done their homework. City Staff’s (Vina and Murphy) strange interpretation of the City’s own ordinances were not officially “clarified” until a week ago, when the Campaign Sign Guidelines were issued, a full month after signs showed up and after a one month period during which the City Clerk maintained the City had NO opinion on the legality of its own codes until they were “clarified.” The Guidelines were written and issued by Staff and not by the City Attorney.

Read Asst. City Attorney Morrison’s instructions to Gus Vina regarding the wording for amending the Sign Ordinance (March 19,2014). His three pages of background information on the issue made it perfectly clear that the recommended changes were entirely IN RESPONSE TO FREE SPEECH challenges. Also, in the City Attorney’s own instructions he writes, “It is important to emphasize that such an amendment would NOT change any rules in Section 2.16.040 RELATED TO POLITICAL SIGNS.”

Connect the dots and follow the money.

Truthseeker August 14, 2014 at 12:26 pm

I don’t know who you are, Connect the Dots? But your comments make a lot of sense. Are you an attorney? In my opinion everybody should carefully research this sign issue before voting for anybody. It seems city folks are purposely creating confusion and wiggle room in the law, so that they can misinterpret the laws in their favor. Be vigilant.


Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign August 13, 2014 at 10:29 am

More unsubstantiated allegations?

I’m shocked, shocked.

Not even the right gender–just an Encinitas dad who speaks the truth. I have never met Catherine or Julie in person. Nor Ms. Shaffer for that matter.

Rather than target my identity or motives (“J’accuse!”), how about a rational discussion of the substance of my post?

Democracy and elections should inspire us to reach a little higher. I challenge you to take the high road, neighbor.

Is it a Sign that Lisa Shaffer is Blogging Again? August 13, 2014 at 9:59 am

Wow! I am impressed with the detail in the above post authored by “Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign.” Who could be the author? Seems it would have to be someone who is on Blakespeare’s team. Probably someone who meets with the City attorney on a regular basis. Most likely someone who promised to fire the city attorney, but now thinks his word is as good as gold. It must be either Lisa Shaffer or Teresa Barth. If it is Lisa, we may need to cut her some slack because she has said she does not understand the word reconsider. The city attorney had to clear up that concept for her, as well.

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign August 13, 2014 at 9:06 am

Wow. I guess we can all expect a season of Graboi followers looking to gain political advantage by any means necessary. Creating the perception of controversy where none actually exists. Here’s a simple test to separate material accusations from made up ones: if there is a real violation of election rules, it will be accompanied by legal action to remedy the violation. In this case, don’t hold your breath waiting for that, because the City Attorney published this specific guideline to create a clear and fair playing field:


On residential property, with the property owner’s permission, temporary signs (campaign or other noncommercial message) are allowed subject to certain limitations. For example, no more than two signs are permitted and the total area of both signs cannot exceed three square feet. Further, the signs cannot be more than five feet in height. A temporary residential sign can remain for no more than 6 months. (EMC §30.60.020.G & 30.60.080)

This whole non-issue says more about Julie Graboi and her followers ethics than it does about Catherine and hers.

Political Advantage Over Substance August 13, 2014 at 5:12 am

Of course Blakespear and our council majority were in on this. She ordered her signs months ago and has been planning this for a long time since she is aware that people who have broken rules in the past have suffered no consequences except in the eyes of voters.

This answer is typical of her inability to take a position on important issues that matter to citizens while bringing up that she is an attorney at every turn. She says that lawyers can get things done. Citizens want candidates who get things done for citizens not candidates who get things done for their own political advantage.

I Want to Love Encinitas August 12, 2014 at 8:57 pm

“Thank you for your concern.” Sounds like Blakespear has already perfected the form letter. This is what we have to look forward to, folks.

Billy Bob August 12, 2014 at 5:31 pm

When Muir and Stocks got “caught” putting up campaign signs one day early, there was hell to pay. Citizens were outraged. A You Tube video was made and shared widely, basically calling them criminals. So, it seems quite odd, and or interesting, that Ms. Blakespear seems to think she can do what others were called on the carpet for doing. But then again, Ms. Blakespear has Shaffer, Barth and Kranz behind her. I guess that makes it OK in Blakespeare’s mind. After all she is the darling of 3 council members. Her explanation is ridiculous and it is not part of the EMC, as pointed out by Dr. Rothe. It is hypocritical, and it is enough to make me vote for another candidate, namely Julie Graboi.

Catherine S. Blakespear August 12, 2014 at 4:23 pm

Thank you for your concern. For the record, I’m not worried about my free speech rights nor did I advocate for a rule change. I am following the rules as written by the city attorney, and as recently distributed in a one page flier for candidates running for office. As an attorney I take the ordinances very seriously and I did not put up any signs, even outside my own house, until I understood the rules clearly. At this time, anyone is allowed to have one sign in their yard and it must be a relatively small sign. I believe everyone to whom I have distributed signs is following this. Thank you again for your concern.

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