ENCINITAS — Campaign signs from five Encinitas City Council candidates went up before they legally should have, sparking a closer look at the city’s municipal code.
According to municipal code, Council campaign signs “may be displayed 30 days prior to the election.” That means Council signs weren’t supposed to be posted before Oct. 7 at 12:01 a.m., according to city staff.
The controversy began when two incumbent Council members seeking reelection, Mayor Jerome Stocks and Councilman Mark Muir, were captured on video posting signs early.
Encinitas resident Joe Corder took the video, showing Stocks and Muir installing their own campaign signs together Oct. 5 at 10:15 p.m. at the Encinitas Ford Dealership along Encinitas Boulevard.
Corder filmed the two again approximately 45 minutes later placing signs at a storage facility on Olivehain Road, where he asked the candidates to remove the signs. The candidates declined and requested Corder to leave.
Earlier that day, Corder had seen two of Stocks’ campaign signs near the Shell gas station on Encinitas Boulevard and El Camino Real. Struck that he hadn’t seen other campaign signs, he consulted the city’s website to review the policy on campaign signs. He snapped a photo of Stocks’ campaign signs at 6:33 p.m. A time stamp from his camera confirmed the claim.
Later that night, Corder said he saw about 20 more signs for Stocks on El Camino Real between Santa Fe Road and Encinitas Boulevard, which prompted him to file an incident report regarding the campaign signs going up too soon with the Sheriff’s Department at 9:30 p.m.
“It didn’t seem fair that his campaign signs were out there,” Corder said.
Corder then happened to see Stocks and Muir posting signs, so he trailed them and shot the two videos.
Muir said he thought the city’s municipal code indicated the signs could be placed Saturday, but noted, “There was some confusion there.”
“I saw other candidates’ signs before then,” Muir said, adding that those campaigns had not received as much scrutiny.
He posted his signs Friday night, which he believed was only a bit early, “to avoid traffic and safety issues.”
“There are bigger issues than signs,” Muir said.
According to City Code Enforcement Manager Joan Kling, the signs shouldn’t have been placed before Oct. 7.
During election season, the city removes, or “sweeps,” campaign signs that are posted early or in the public right of way, according to Kling. During the most recent sweep last Thursday, the city picked up 10 illegally placed signs, none of which were from an Encinitas Council candidate.
Although still under review, Kling said fines will not be levied toward any Council campaigns at this time.
Candidates would receive fines of $100 for the first incident in posting signs early, $200 for the second incident and $500 for the third and any subsequent incidents.
In an email response, Stocks said he was only out an “hour or two” early, arguing “the code says 30 days BEFORE the election, not 30 days from the election.”
“I contend that means 30 days from the 5th, which would be October 6 at 12:01 a.m.,” Stocks said in the email.
He added that, “the furor is much ado about nothing,” and declined follow-up questions.
As of Monday afternoon, Kling said citizens had sent two written complaints that Council candidates’ signs were placed early. One complaint cited Stocks and Muir, while the other named candidate Lisa Shaffer.
Shaffer acknowledged some of her signs went up prior to the deadline. She said she distributed her signs to supporters over the last month at campaign rallies, but with specific instructions that they shouldn’t go out until Oct. 7.
“I did everything to communicate that,” Shaffer said.
Tony Kranz, too, admitted his signs made an appearance before the official start date. On Thursday morning and afternoon, he saw his signs at two spots along Leucadia Boulevard, but “quickly took them down.”
Calling it “very mysterious,” Kranz said signs were taken from his unlocked garage and placed at the two spots without his knowledge, a possible attempt to put him in a bad light, he said.
Further, he said there was a “false equivalence” between candidates who intentionally posted signs before the start date and those whose signs had been unknowingly placed.
“I’m looking forward to talking about the issues again,” Kranz said in a later interview.
Reportedly, one of candidate Bryan Ziegler’s signs was on Saxony Road and Encinitas Boulevard as early as Friday. Ziegler said he wasn’t aware that Sunday was the earliest signs could go up, and couldn’t recall exactly when his signs were placed.
He said, “It’s possible the signs went up early.” If they did, it would have “only been a handful at most,” he added.
There are nine candidates seeking three Council seats, according to the city’s website.