ENCINITAS — A group of residents are calling it “Signgate.” Whatever the name, punishments aren’t forthcoming.
Campaign signs from five Council candidates went up before they legally should have, violating municipal code.
The city, however, will not conduct an administrative hearing or reprimand any of the candidates, despite calls from some citizens to take action.
A video taken by a local resident that was later posted on YouTube kicked off the campaign sign controversy.
In the video, two incumbent council members vying for reelection, Mayor Jerome Stocks and Councilman Mark Muir, were captured planting their own campaign signs 26 hours before Oct. 7, the opening day for campaign signs.
Campaign signs advocating for candidates Lisa Shaffer and Tony Kranz were also spotted before the deadline. In earlier interviews, both candidates maintained their signs were placed without their knowledge. Candidate Bryan Ziegler also had signs out early because he wasn’t aware of the Oct. 7 start date, he said last week.
To deal with those who break municipal code, the city can issue a fine, charge a misdemeanor, hold an administrative hearing on the matter or enforce the code with a lawsuit.
Patrick Murphy, the city’s planning and building director, said none of those options will be pursued, as candidates are now “in compliance with the code.”
“We treat the candidates like anyone else,” Murphy said. “They have an opportunity to comply. If they don’t, then we look at a more serious course of action.”
Murphy said the city doesn’t jump to fines or other punishments for any municipal code violations without issuing a warning first, with the exception of short-term rentals. Even if there’s proof of the infraction or someone knowingly breaks the code, the city only considers issuing penalties for those who continue to disobey codes after receiving a warning, he said.
“For example, someone who intentionally builds without a permit, we give them a warning, saying they need comply, not a fine off the bat,” Murphy said.
Should fines have been levied, continually placing signs early amounts to $100 for the first incident, $200 for the second and $500 for the third and any subsequent incidents, according to Code Enforcement Manager Joan Kling.
At last week’s City Council meeting, resident Dennis Lees urged the city to convene an administrative hearing to review Stocks and Muir putting up their signs early.
“Whether or not there’s an administrative meeting will make or break my faith in this city’s government,” Lees said.
Resident Cyrus Kamada also spoke out against Stocks’ and Muir’s behavior and the city’s response at the council meeting.
“The notion that the passage of time rights this mistake is wrong,” said Kamada, adding that Stocks should willingly remove his signs 26 hours before the election.
Kamada said he hopes the public will penalize Stocks and Muir “at the voting booth.”
“Regardless of party affiliation, you should stand up for rules that create a level playing field,” Kamada said.
In response, Muir questioned why some residents aren’t going after the other candidates whose signs went up sooner than they should have. He also said that he wouldn’t take down his signs prior to the election unless the four other candidates agreed to do so as well.
“We must be doing pretty good as a city if this is the best they can come up with,” Muir said.
In reply to an interview request, Stocks answered via email, which read: “The resolution for any code violation is to come into compliance. That has occurred.”