Del Mar residents concerned about sign snatching

By Claire Harlin

Residents and merchants on both sides of the Proposition J campaign experienced a rude awakening over the weekend when they found their political signs had been illegally removed from their property — and much of the sign snatching happened in broad daylight.

On Oct. 1, the city’s code enforcement office returned from the weekend to “a rash of phone calls,” said code enforcement officer Patty Malik, from residents asking if signs were turned in or if they were removed by the city due to code enforcement issues.

Malik said the city didn’t take the signs, and that this was a new issue for the code enforcement office.

“Many of the calls are from merchants wondering where their signs went,” she said. “We’ve never had calls about people taking signs. This is the first time.”

Prop J supporter Howard Gad had a different take on the issue, however. Gad, who heads the FOR Del Mar’s Future campaign, said this is “not anything new” for Del Mar, but the extent is significant. He said that on his side of the campaign, there have been about 20 missing signs — four taken from the campaign’s headquarters at 14th and Camino Del Mar; three from residential property near Luneta Drive; 12 found in a pile near a neighborhood gutter; and at least three found in a residential trash can. While he said the sign-snatching doesn’t surprise him, he said he was surprised that he found the pile of signs by the gutter in broad daylight.

“Usually they do this at night,” he said. “People are saying they went to the store during the day and when they came back the signs were gone.”

Hershell Price, of the opposition group Save Olde Del Mar, said about a dozen signs have gone missing from their side. He said he reached out to representatives from FOR Del Mar’s Future after finding out about the thefts, and found out the other side was battling the same issue.

“I don’t think anyone working directly on a campaign would do this,” he said. “It’s not an ethical thing to do, and I just don’t think anyone on our side or their side would do it.”

Neither side has reported any thefts to authorities, and Malik called the string of incidents a “civil issue between neighbors.”

“I’m not sure if police would respond to cardboard signs being taken,” she said.

The city, however, has its eye on the signs because they must be in compliance with the law. City code states political signs must be placed on private property and have approval of the property’s owner. There’s no limit on the number of signs a property contains, however, total signage can’t exceed 6 square feet on commercial properties or 5.5 square feet on residential properties. That could mean one large sign or a number of smaller ones.

Malik said there is a misconception that if a property owner’s landscaping extends to the street, then they own it. However, the city’s right of way is 6 to 12 feet from the curb inward to the property.

“We don’t go around and measure, but we try to give a guideline,” she said, adding that the guideline is in place to prevent signs from distracting drivers or causing danger to pedestrians, such as those walking dogs on leashes that might get tangled with the signs.

City code also states all signs much be immediately discarded after the election.

In the case that a sign is in violation, the city would pick up the sign and hold it at City Hall. But Malik said the city “doesn’t take a sign unless it’s grossly in the public right of way.” For questions or to report a possible violation, call code enforcement at (858) 755-9313.