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The valley of lost placards

Local candidates speculate as campaign posters find way to city’s secluded sign graveyard

Posted: October 22, 2009 9:26 p.m.
Updated: October 23, 2009 4:55 a.m.

City of Santa Clarita Supervising Community Preservation Officer Curtis Williams tosses a stack of campaign signs into a pile at a city storage yard in Saugus on Thursday. The signs were removed from places where they were illegally displayed on public property.

 
Less than two weeks before Election Day, campaign signs mysteriously vanished from street corners.

Candidates had their suspects: At best, wind gusts. At worst, vandals or overzealous rival campaigners.

“They are disappearing almost as fast as I can put them up,” said Randy Moberg, candidate in the College of the Canyons board election for Seat No. 3.

Little did the candidates know — dozens of signs that had been uprooted and torn down littered the ground Thursday in a secluded spot in Saugus, tucked behind railroad tracks in a city storage yard.

Santa Clarita officials make monthly sweeps to find signs that violate city regulations. And the signs they find invariably end up in the sign graveyard.

Some of the candidates mourned their losses.

“The signs are a key element in getting the word out,” Moberg said. “To have to spend the time and money to replace them is really unnecessary.”

Most candidates knew the city may have taken some of the signs.

COC Seat No. 3 incumbent Joan MacGregor, who is running against Moberg, said she has had 150 signs cut or ripped down, costing her about $1,000.

It happens to all of them
While disappearing signs are a regular occurrence during election season, some candidates said it’s been getting worse.

“It happens every time I run,” said Joe Messina, one of five candidates vying for three open seats on the William S. Hart Union High School District board. “It happens to all the candidates.”

Messina, who ran for Hart board in 2005 and 2007, said he’s learned to make two sweeps of sign-posting.

“I know a bunch of them are going to go away,” he said.

Linda Valdes, another Hart district candidate, said it’s the nature of campaigning.

“I’ve heard that it’s very common,” she said.

Hart board candidate Suzan Solomon, who has won several previous Newhall School District board elections, said the disappearing signs are worse this year.

“You put them in high-traffic (areas) and you hope for the best,” Solomon said.

Still, the enigma of the vanishing signs doesn’t haunt her.

“It’s not the most important aspect of my campaign, although it is costly,” she said.

While there will always be speculation, many candidates in the College of the Canyons and Hart district board elections can’t say for sure where the signs are going.

Surely not all of them end up in the city’s sign graveyard.

Officials strike again

The city’s community preservation team is an admitted culprit.

Its motive: The mish-mash of brightly colored signs can become an eyesore.

Off-limit spots for signs include public places such as roads, sidewalks, telephone poles and utilities poles.

“They are not allowed to put campaign signs on public property,” city spokeswoman Gail Ortiz said.

Candidates can station signs on private property as long as they get owner approval, she said.

The city can’t touch those signs, no matter how big they are.

The city’s team of six community preservation officers and one administrator participate in monthly sweeps. They alternate between weekends and weekdays.

The most recent sweep was two weeks ago, on a Saturday, said Curtis Williams, supervising community preservation officer for the city.

When Nov. 4 — the day after the election — arrives, candidates have a week to remove all of their signs in the community.

“Most candidates are good about that,” Williams said.

Retrieving lost placards
Candidates who violate the code will see their signs disappear to the city’s public works storage yard, where they can come pick them up.

“If they contact us, we would be more than happy to have them meet us here and return the signage,” Williams said.

On Thursday, about 30 to 40 signs, mainly from College of the Canyons and Hart district candidates, were piled in the city’s storage yard.

The city doesn’t punish violators, as the offenses take place over a short amount of time and removing them solves the problem, Williams said.

Still, he said, “We would prefer them not to do it in the first place.”

Signs attract voters

As small or as eye-catching as the signs are, candidates say they work to attract voters.

“In local school board elections, it just seems to be the thing to do,” said Paul Strickland, lone incumbent in the Hart district race.

Strickland said the signs serve a psychological purpose.

“Every day when they go to the same route, back and forth, they see that same sign,” he said, adding that signs can make voters interested in learning more about the candidate.

“(With) the way that people vote, especially in our community, signs are important.”

Valdes said the signs give name recognition to candidates.

“It will remind people about the election,” she said.

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