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.