Destruction of campaign signs is rampant in Berkeley

Vandalized Laurie Capitelli campaign signs

The campaign sign gremlins are out in full force.

Two weeks before the Nov. 6 election, many of the candidates for major Berkeley offices are reporting that their signs have been torn down, ripped up, stolen, or vandalized – and, in some cases, the destruction feels personal.

Anna Avellar, the aide to Councilwoman Susan Wengraf, woke up Sunday to find her “Tom Bates for Mayor” sign ripped into small pieces and deposited on her doorstep. What made the vandalism creepy, she said, is that her front door is about 30 steps from the sidewalk. So someone had to tear up the sign and come up the stairs in the dark to set down the pieces.

“A couple of weeks ago someone shoved dozens of “Kriss” (campaign signs for mayoral candidate Kriss Worthington) and other … flyers into my gate,” Avellar posted to her Facebook page. “Strangely enough, no one else on my lane was as lucky. Do I think I am being targeted? YES!”

Jacquelyn McCormick, Laurie Capitelli, Worthington and others have also seen their campaign signs removed or vandalized.

The Tom Bates sign left on Anna Avellar’s doorstep

Sophie Hahn, who is running against Councilman Laurie Capitelli, said her campaign signs are regularly stolen. In one case, during the night, someone uprooted a series of signs that lined Rose Street.

“We have had signs torn out from the ground and ripped into pieces,” Hahn wrote in an email. “In one case, a sign on a wooden stick was removed, torn and appeared to have been “beaten” with the stick it had been on  … Signs in the Sacramento Street median have been covered with spray paint – painted over entirely. Basically, it has been something we deal with virtually every day – seeing or hearing about signs that are stolen or vandalized.”

The more controversial the race, the more likely a sign is to be vandalized, it seems.

“If you put up a sign that everyone agrees with in Berkeley you are not going to get it torn down,” said Worthington, who saw a slew of his signs on utility poles on University Ave. disappear after 11 p.m. one night. “But, if it is a contested race, there are a lot of hot-headed people who are overpowered by their emotions and aren’t thinking straight.”

One Berkeleyside commentator said that Measure T signs seem particularly vulnerable.

“I put out a dozen Yes on T signs last Friday throughout District 2. By Monday, they were all gone. I saw one Yes on T sign at San Pablo and Hearst that had been crudely changed to a No on T sign,” said the poster who calls himself Tor_berg.

Campaign signs are only allowed on some public property, which is why so many sit in the median of San Pablo Avenue and University Avenue. They can be placed on poles that are owned by the city, but cannot be affixed to wooden telephone poles, which are owned by utilities. But many of the signs being vandalized have been on private property.

A photographer snaps a photo of someone apparently uprooting a Tom Bates sign

It is almost impossible to determine who is tearing down campaign signs. Worthington thinks that overzealous volunteers are often to blame. A few years back he found out that some of his volunteers were destroying his opponents’ signs.

“We told them severely ‘you are not welcome in our office. We want a positive campaign. We don’t want that kind of destruction and negativity,’” said Worthington.

On Friday Oct 19, Ces Rosales, a former candidate for District 7, woke up to find her front window cracked. It sat directly behind a sign for Tom Bates and it appears as if someone threw the rock against the sign, said Rosales.

“This act of vandalism can only mean one of two things (or both): somebody dislikes Mayor Tom Bates so much that just seeing this sign evokes vandalism; OR somebody dislikes my outspoken support for Mayor Bates and is trying to intimidate me,” Rosales wrote in an email. “When I had to leave my country because of martial law I thought I left behind my fear of being harmed because of my political views. I had no idea it can happen to me right here in Berkeley: the home of ‘free speech’.”

Worthington said someone wrote down the license plate number of the car containing the people who systematically ripped down his signs from utility poles. Yet he hasn’t gone to the police about it.

“I disapprove, but am I going to divert my time from talking to voters to focus on that?” he said.

A Jacquelyn McCormick campaign sign discarded on the sidewalk

Note: This article has been updated to state campaign signs are permitted on “some” public property. Before the correction it read “on public property.”

Visit Berkeleyside’s Voter’s Edge Berkeley for complete coverage and tracking of the city’s 10 ballot measures. Visit Berkeleyside’s Election 2012 section to see all our coverage in the run-up to Nov. 6.

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  • Completely_Serious

    Tempest, meet teapot.  Pot, let me introduce kettle.

  • Greg

    “You know where you are?  You’re in the flatlands, baby!”

    Great.  Now every time I look at the comments section and see dozens of your little fishy avatar I’ll get Axl Rose’s voice in my head.  How irritating.

    Further, you’ve made me keenly aware of my flimsy physics background.   I really can’t explain how it is that we can simultaneously live in the same city but on different planets, but clearly that is the case.

  • James

    Hello, whatever your opinion is about placing campaign signs on public property there is one place where I hope everyone will agree to stop placing signs and that is in traffic circles. The reason for this is twofold.  One is to protect the plants from being trampled on.  The second and more important reason is for safety especially near schools.  The signs are a distraction and decrease visibility of pedestrian traffic/school children.


  • The Sharkey

    I think we should prohibit the placement of campaign signs on any public property. Medians, circles, etc.

    Basically anywhere where we would not allow individuals to use public land to advertise for private enterprise, we should also not allow public individuals to advertise for their campaigns.

  • guest

    Not so much about the signs being removed or torn, more about trespassing and targeting certain individuals.  I drove the length of Sacramento yesterday and the number of signs in the median is ridiculous.  Some candidates have as many as 10 on just one block.  The very same candidates that claim to be environmentalists.  Hypocrites.  Berkeley should have more stringent laws against political signs on public streets.  They are incredibly distracting and therefore dangerous.

  • Hedge888

    maybe people are just tired of the signs, hence the paint and vandilism

  • Cleita

    I figure this is the best place to report this. My Tom Bates sign was removed last night. They were so kind as to leave the wire that held the sign behind.

  • 4Eenie

    Running errands yesterday and today took me down University, across San Pablo, up Solano, and onto Shattuck. On each of those main streets, I saw not a single Bates sign.

    What I did see, which has been commented on previously, was at least two modified Yes on T signs that were changed to No on T (I don’t care which side you are on, that is just extremely immature and distasteful), several Hahn signs posted to poles with duct tape, about 8-10 feet high on the poles, I estimate, and several Kriss or Kriss for Mayor signs affixed the same way (no Swiss Kriss signs). I saw one or two Capitelli signs–not even close to the dozens of Hahn signs that are EVERYWHERE.

    Have these people no shame? I would think that even if No on T, Hahn, and Kriss folks say that they had nothing to do with the defacing or mis-placing of the signs, they would do the right thing and remove the signs that have been modified or placed in “illegal” spots.

    Oh wait, I did see one Bates sign, on MLK and Ward, ripped up into pieces in the middle of the road.

    Cheap, cheap shots going on here. Shame shame shame.

  • bgal4

     Your point?

  • Charles_Siegel

     My point is that I would not vote for anyone who actually admits on her web site that she is endorsed by Shirley Dean.

  • bgal4

    I figured.

    I included Shirley as an endorser when I ran in 04, along with several people from the other camp who historically opposed her.

    Have you ever spoken with her personally?

  • guest

     Why?  I always voted against her myself, but Bates has turned out to be worse.  Berkeley needs new blood,.

  • Charles_Siegel

     I have.  She and I were both in the negotiations over the development of the apartment building at Shattuck/Rose, and during those negotiations, she was gratuitously nasty to city planning staff.  When my son was a little kid, I went to lunch with him at one of the carts on Bancroft (off Sproul plaza) and the person ahead of us on line was none other than Shirley Dean; I said hello in a friendly way, and she stiffened and turned her back on me.

    Later, I heard someone say that she was voting for Shirley Dean because she was “so nice,” and I was amazed. 

    Apparently, she could be very nice to people she liked (or people she wanted to vote for her) and very nasty to people she does not like.

    You may know that, when she was mayor, some people called her “Surely Mean.”

    Though I do not like her personally, I think she did a good job in starting the revitalization of downtown. 

  • Charles_Siegel

    That was a joke. 

    The point of my original comment was that maybe she should not keep Kim Nemerov as an endorser on her web site, since she was caught destroying campaign signs.  Read the other comments on this article about Kim Nemerov.

    As a joke, I pretended that my comment was about her having Shirley Dean as an endorser on her web site.

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

     I feel the same way about tom bates…I’ve greeted him many times around town and at the YMCA and the only time i have got even a response back was during his re-election campain. he seems like a real jerk.

  • The Sharkey

    I saw a lot more torn up Bates signs on my morning walk today, and saw that several neighbors had had their lawn signs stolen again.

    Looks like the Worthington/McCormick supporters are still at it.