Boards putting teeth behind sign enforcement


During the California primary election in June, Carmel Valley resident John Dean became increasingly fed up seeing illegally placed candidate signs. They were propped up on the side of the road, stuck onto fences and even placed high up on light poles.

Dean, who is a city sign code enforcer, did as much as he could to get the word out to candidates about the improper postings. Now, with the November election looming he’s got some muscle behind him with a political sign plan signed off on by local planning boards.

“We’re going to stop chasing politicians and stop it from happening in the first place,” Dean said.

According to city code, it is unlawful for any person to place signs on public property. These political signs can only be posted if the property owner gives the OK or if a homeowner posts one on their own front lawn.

Dean said candidates often hire sign posting companies to post their signs for them, allowing them to do their dirty work.

The plan includes preventing sign companies from coming into the community, getting community businesses to sign no trespassing letters to be put on file with the police department and having candidates pledge not to send commercial sign companies into the area. Already both Dist. 1 City Council candidates Sherri Lightner and Phil Thalheimer have made the pledge.

The Carmel Valley Community Planning Board was the latest to support the program; the Torrey Hills and Del Mar Mesa planning groups are already on board. Dean is hoping the plan will expand to include all of Dist. 1.

“Already it’s having a positive effect with just two planning boards endorsing it,” Dean said.

Lightner, who was in attendance at the Carmel Valley meeting, said she has never hired a sign company during her campaign but admits she has struggled with “over-zealous” supporters.

“I won’t do it in your area or any other area,” Lightner said of illegal postings.

Dean recently went to the San Diego City Council to speak with them about the regulation. He expected to be the “fox in the henhouse” but to his surprise was referred to the city attorney’s office for a meeting.

Dean said 12 city attorneys; the entire code compliance division and lieutenants from local police departments attended that meeting.

“I was in shock,” said Dean, adding he was pleased that it was an issue everyone seems to be talking seriously this time around.

The city is taking it seriously enough that they will prosecute offenders for trespassing and vandalism - Dean said all they need is to get a police report. It’s up to residents to report when they spot sign crews out in their neighborhoods.

Board member David Bartick was concerned with some of the plan language, particularly that candidates must pledge to not send sign companies into the area.

“I don’t think that’s constitutional,” Bartick said.

Bartick planned to work on the language, which Dean said it not set in stone and is more of a “moving target.”

While the illegal postings may not end entirely, he said, he’s excited for what they might be able to accomplish.

“Maybe in 10 years, we’ll have really made a difference in the city,” Dean said.