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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  • bgal4

    Not a new phenomena.

    In 2004, I ran in district 3, many of the business on both commercial strips Sacramento and Adeline posted our campaign signs.

    Corner stores posting our campaign signs on Sacramento St were visited by a city of Berkeley public health dept staff member. She told the shop keepers to remove the signs claiming they covered too much of the windows.

    Lee’s Law control window coverage for liquor stores, but these signs did not come close to reaching the threshold  for enforcement. It was particularly ironic, because prior to our BAPAC advocacy work on regulatory requirements for alcohol sales the city did not enforce or even acknowledge Lee’s Law existence. One of BAPAC our first surveys with the support of the public health dept was photograph conditions at all off sales alcohol outlets and do educational outreach on Lee’s law.

    I followed up with the City Manager office with name, date, and specific details making it impossible to deny.

    High level city staff told me they talk with her about it.

  • another BUSD parent

    pretty cheesy behavior all around.

    right up there with disposing of papers endorsing another candidate…ooops

  • Berkeleyan

    Alright, let’s be honest: it’s mainly going to be Capitelli and Bates and Wengraff signs that get trashed.

    I’m asking you, Hahn and Worthington and Sorgen:  would you PLEASE put a leash on your overzealous volunteers?  Thank you.  I know you think your opposition is worse than Hitler and all that, but they’re human beings who want to make a difference in their own way, just like you.

    Every time one of your people trash a sign it just reinvigorates voters who aren’t for you in the first place.  

  • Berkeleyan

    …and whoever trespassed on Anna Avellar’s home after an act of vandalism, you should know you’re a sick little f * ck and that this should be investigated or, at the very least, reported as a crime, as that’s exactly what it is.  Word spreads rapidly in this city, so I hope you’re friends talk to other friends until you’re found out.  

    I would have hoped in Berkeley people are entitled to their own political beliefs without fear of being intimidated, but I guess that’s just too much freedom for everyone to handle. 

  • The Sharkey

    It’s no surprise that Kriss Worthington’s supporters are as ill-behaved as he is.

    If people are going to be allowed to destroy and deface signs posted on public and private property, maybe we need to make it illegal to post campaign signs on public property.

  • The Sharkey

    Two wrongs make a right, here in Berkeley, CA.

    The hypocrisy of Kriss Worthington’s supporters attacking Bates for the newspaper incident (which happened a decade ago) while destroying his signs this year is par for the course.

  • The Sharkey

    In Berkeley’s city government, “spoke with” is code for “did nothing.”

  • Berkeleyan

    Going to someone’s house and attempting to intimidate them via an act of vandalism is on a whole other level.  

  • “Campaign signs are allowed on public property….”

    You can’t be serious; does that mean schools? City hall? The Police station? Libraries? Parks?  Where is the code section on this?
    Maybe I’m misinformed but this seems like a recipe for a mess

  • This section suggests that the inclusion of signs is more restrictive than just “public property”:
    Candidates and committees may face fines if signs are not removed from public right-of-ways, which includes medians, sidewalks, parks, utility boxes and poles.

  • The Sharkey

    Signs for candidates and ballot measures are required to be removed 15 days after Election Day. Candidates and committees may face fines if signs are not removed from public right-of-ways, which includes medians, sidewalks, parks, utility boxes and poles.

    All this really says is that, after plastering their signs all over public property while destroying the opposition’s signs, Worthington’s supporters are only legally required to remove the signs within 15 days after the election.

    Personally I don’t think ANY campaign signs should be allowed on public property, no matter what issue or candidate they support.

  • Completely_Serious

    “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.

    Translation:  “We encouraged them to keep it up.  It is in keeping with my campaign ethos, which includes putting up illegal signs with no FPPC number, an illegally financed mystery bill board, and the 2010 “Queen Meg” and George Beier flyers that we distributed just before the election.

    “We are rewarding our volunteers with a free burrito or tofu sandwich for each Bates sign turned in to our secret campaign sabotage headquarters, conveniently located at my house in El Cerrito.”

    FTFY.  :)

  • Andrew Doran

    wow, who would have thought those dumb ass signs meant so much to so many people. I guess if you decide who should run our city, and what sorts of directions we should take on various issues based on colorful paper on people’s lawns this is serious news to you. For those of us that base our opinions on things that are a little more substantial than deciding  which color scheme’s team we want to be on by shear numbers of the various options, this is about as interesting as Jersey Shore re-runs.

  • Rob Wrenn

    “it’s mainly going to be Capitelli and Bates and Wengraff signs that get trashed.” That may be true in the hills; I couldn’t say since I don’t spend much time there. But in the flats around where I live, Kriss and McCormick signs are more likely to disappear, perhaps because there are more of them to take. There are overzealous people on all sides of the mayor, council and ballot measure races. I recommend window signs, which can’t be stolen and don’t get soggy if it rains.

  • Berkeleyan

    Taking something off of someone’s private property and trashing it, no matter what it is, is unacceptable.  But if you think otherwise that says a TON about where you’re coming from, Mr. Doran.  While you’re identifying yourself fully, would you care to tell us who you’re proudly aligning yourself with and what measures you endorse in this election?   Enquiring minds want to know!

  • Guest2

    I would like to put a Romney/Ryan sign up but know I will have my house vandalized. Free speech in Berkeley is all good as long and you agree with everyone.

  • Patrick_Sheahan

    The removal and mutilation of signs does not seem to be the domain of one side or the other. About 50 signs 
    for NO on T disappeared in a single evening, though I am not aware of any campaign encouraging the vandalism.  However, sign stealing is not an offense of the same magnitude as the infamous instance of newspaper stealing; when a mayoral candidate stole and dumped newspapers, then accused eyewitnesses of lying, and then finally plead guilty of a misdemeanor (after winning the election).

  • Completely_fictitious

     Completely_ fictitious.

  • Berkeleyan

    I dunno, Mr. Wrenn.  I’ve grown up in this city and it tends to be the more radical candidates’ supporters get to be a little more over zealous (as Worthington is accurately quoted as putting it in this article) and doing this sort of thing.   

  • Berkeleyan

    With all due respect, Mr. Sheahan, you are wrong.  It will happen more frequently to the more moderate (or, in the case of Berkeley, less left-win) candidates’ signs.  It has to do with one side feeling a little bit more entitled and self-righteous and … well … being more extremist than the other.  

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    Why do we allow signs all over Berkeley? will anyone admit to voting for a candidate because they saw his/her name on a sign? I’ve said this before I’m not sure one deserves the privilege of voting if one decides on a candidate based on how popular they are or who has the most signs plastered all over town, if you can’t make a informed decision based on research do us all a favor and do something else on election day like go for a walk or read a book, better yet volunteer at your local elementary school tutor a kid in reading…just please don’t vote for someone based on how many times you see a persons name on a freaking sign.

  • Andrew Doran

    I am not suggesting the behavior described in this article is in any way acceptable. On the contrary, my comments above should be construed to apply to the vandals more so than to the victims as those are the people who think the signs are so important that they are willing to go out of their way to be needlessly destructive of other people’s property. My snarky comments were intended to remind my fellow Berkleyans that there are actual real issues behind the signs and the people and lettters on them, and that although the behavior of a few idiots is certainly of note, it is an entertaining aside rather than anything actually to do with what we will be deciding in a few weeks.

    As to my personal plans for this election? Sure, I’m happy to share a few of my opinions if you’re really interested in what I think.  I’ll be voting to re-elect our Mayor, although I’m not overjoyed about it. I just think the options are universally less ideal.  I just moved out of district 4 and into district 1 so I don’t really have much of a choice there.  I think Measure U is the most dangerous thing on the ballot and represents the worst of Berkeley politics: vocal minorities who refuse to accept the majority will of their fellow citizens and in response come up with more and more byzantine ways to extend debate and delay decisions. Checks and balances are a good thing, unelected commissions suing duly elected representatives of citizens is just beyond the pale. I keep flip flopping on S. R seems like a no-brainer yes. And I’ve been convinced from what I’ve read that T is actually a good idea, as I’m a “change is inevitable” kind of guy and believe smart planning is the way to go in many cases, this one included.   Did the above help you pigeon hole me and confirm for you what my motivations about everything under sun are? Cuz, you know, as you suggest it’s all about “aligning” with people and picking sides. 

  • Berkeleyan

    Could you please sum that up in a few sentences that would fit on a sign?

  • Berkeley

    Removing campaign signs on public property = picking up litter
    Removing campaign signs on private property = theft [and trespassing]

    I think public works should remove all campaign signs on all public property all the time.
    If you take something from my front yard, you should go to jail.

  • Lhasa7

    The Swiss Kriss brigade also seems to be completely shameless in affixing his sign to street signage, which I presume is illegal (as well as antisocial).

  • The Sharkey

    As another flats-dweller, I have to wonder what neighborhood you’re talking about.
    Everywhere I’ve been in the flats I see Worthington and McCormick signs staying up for week after week, with Bates signs “mysteriously” disappearing within a day or two.

  • tor_berg

    Hi Patrick:

    Given that opponents have plastered the city with hundreds of No on T signs, I think it’s unlikely that you could keep track of any given 50. As I mentioned, I put out just a dozen Yes signs. I know where I put them. Two days later, they were gone. 

    You’ve mostly kept to the high ground in this debate, but bringing up the 2002 Daily Cal incident smacks of desperation. That was 10 years ago. Bates has been re-elected, by large margins, twice since then. McCormick, Dean, Bronstein, and the other conservative neighborhood-association types will never forgive him for it, but it seems that Berkeley voters, by and large, have.

  • David D.

    I’ve lived here for about 5 years, and I find it terribly amusing that everyone prides themselves as progressive and inclusive and understanding…as long as you agree with them. At least most conservatives are friendly in their disagreements.

    Despite claims to the contrary, the more moderately liberal candidates and measures bear the brunt of this vigorous hatred. Apparently the world is black and white to the ultra-progressives, and things like reason or fiscal prudence are tantamount to being a traitor against humanity.

    I am not saying that campaign signs aren’t being taken down by both sides, but there’s a reason why the No on T signs I see up and down San Pablo outlast their Yes on T companions.

  • The Sharkey

    The hypocrisy of Kriss Worthington’s supporters attacking Bates for the
    newspaper incident (which happened a decade ago) while destroying his
    signs this year is par for the course.

    I’m sure you’re not destroying any of the signs, Mr. Sheahan, but you know that Worthington’s supporters are the ones who are doing this.

  • The Sharkey

    Perhaps someone in Berkeley should set one of these up in their yard:

  • tor_berg

    I get what you’re saying, and as someone who spends A LOT of time following politics, I feel a certain amount of that same resentment of “low-information voters.”

    But honestly, there’s a TON of stuff to vote on this year. Some of it is pretty complicated. Most California voters will go into the booth without a very clear idea what it is they’re voting on. I think the  purpose of the signs is to just plant a spark. So when your typical voter is in the booth, they’ll think, “Hmmm… 32…. I don’t really understand political financing, but I saw a lot of No on 32 signs, so it must be an unpopular idea, so I guess I’ll vote No.” 

  • Berkeleyan

    Ah!  Thanks, Mr. Doran.  I think I like you (and not ’cause of where you stand on things, btw).

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Stay classy, birthplace of free speech.

  • Berkeleyan

    Very well said, David.  Extremism is an ugly coin whose “tails” is the right wing and whose “heads” is the left-wing.  No matter which side you land on, it’s still the same damned ugly coin.  In the backwoods of Mississippi we may find “tails”, while here in Berkeley we find “heads”.  

    Does anyone remember thecraziest left-wing zealot Berkeley ever head, Enrique Zambrano?  Let us try very hard to remember his evils and know that we are capable of doing wrong, no matter which side of the aisle we stand on, left or right. 

  • Berkeleyan

    Too. Damn. Funny.  This is gonna be the best thing that happened this whole election!!!!

  • tor_berg

    I agree, but I think it’s weird that everybody keeps calling Bates’  opponents “progressives.” Same with the No on T people. Neighborhood associations are, by definition, conservative organizations. Jacquelyn McCormick’s platform is that Berkeley’s public employees are too well compensated and that the council is not adequately deferential to neighborhood associations. Those are conservative positions. 

    These are, yes, just labels, but like yard signs, they simplify complex issues. I’m supporting Bates because he has been an inarguably progressive leader in the East Bay for 40 years. I’m supporting Measure T because making urban development work for the city and the region at large is the progressive position. 

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

     That’s exactly why they shouldn’t vote…”Hmmm… 32…. I don’t really understand political financing, but I saw
    a lot of No on 32 signs, so it must be an unpopular idea, so I guess
    I’ll vote No.” BASED ON THE FACT THAT EVERYONE ELSE IS DOING IT! I think the term is acting like sheep.
    someone famous in berkeley once said…”Believe what you’re told… there would be chaos if everyone thought for themselves”

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

     DON’T BE A SHEEP… think for yourself!

  • Berkeleyan

    Now THAT’S a sign we can all get behind!

  • TBF

    When I see that someone’s campagin sign is ripped up (and as another author noted, it has been the signs for Bates, Capitelli and Wengraff) it reminds me of a simple message that apparently their opponents failed to pass on to those that are working on their campaigns – which could be paraphrased as follows: 

    “While I do not see eye to eye with my opponent on some (if not many) of the issues that face our community, I believe that they have the right to run for office and to be treated with respect.  That respect extends to those in our community who choose to support them and work on their campaigns.  Holding public office is a privilege that I do not take lightly, and I ask that those of you who are working to help me get elected do so in a manner that sheds a positive light on not only me and my campaign, but moreover on how you wish others to perceive you in our community and beyond.”  

    I do not want to elect into public office men or women that tolerate the behavoir detailed in this story, and while I do not believe that those that trash signs would do additional vandalism, it nonetheless leaves me with a very bad taste in my mouth for those that view “it is a campaign, this is “Bezerkely” after all, and we should tolerate this behavior”.  I enjoy living in a City that offers a liberal perspective and allows me an opportuinty to elect those that share that perspective – yet I want my electeds to be responsible members of the community, electeds that surround themselves with other responsible members.  Perhaps I am not alone … 

  • David D.

    I agree about “progressive” labels. I do not understand why Worthington and No on T are considered “progressive” when Bates and Yes on T actually result in more advancement of progressive policies. For the record, I don’t think anyone is calling McCormick progressive. She seems decidedly conservative by Berkeley standards (moderate elsewhere).

  • tor_berg

    I would never argue that anyone shouldn’t vote. Everyone should vote in every election always. But there are two problems. 1) We put too many (complex) issues before the voters. 2) Most voters don’t have the time to or interest in fully educating themselves on the issues and candidates before them. 

    I’m interested in hearing solutions to those problems that don’t rely on discouraging qualified voters from exercising their franchise. Endorsements, political parties, voting slates, and yard signs are all (imperfect) attempts to mitigate those problems. But you can’t just tell people not to vote.

  • Greg

    Dissent sometimes requires courage.

    Having lived in other parts of the country that are equally homogeneous politically my *opinion* is that Berkeley’s “threshold of courage” is comparatively low.

    Is your fear of retribution real or imagined?  Unless you’re willing to stand up for yourself we’ll never know.  

    You can’t blame that on Berkeley.

  • Anon

     The free speech movement was born in Berkeley because we didn’t have it, not because we did.  And the mayor came into office on a wave of trashed newspapers which endorsed his opponent.

  • guest

     And why did a so-called progressive mayor and his allies sponsor Measure S, which the ACLU and other genuine progressive organizations denounce?

  • Berkeleyan

    Actually, if you look at the original progressive movement, under which you had things like a prohibition of alcohol, the interventionist strategy of measure s that gets people off of the streets is, in the original sense, very progressive.  

  • Berkeleyan

    You are definitely not alone. 

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

     I didn’t say don’t vote i said don’t vote based on what everyone else is doing (don’t be a sheep) be informed and make informed decisions if you don’t have time to get informed maybe you should skip this election and make a positive impact in another way…thanks for twisting my statement though.

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    if you don’t have time to be informed on a issue just vote on the issues that you are informed on…but please don’t vote a certain way because there is a hundred signs on Sacramento st. if you do vote based on what everyone else is doing maybe you are a prime candidate for a cult.

  • tor_berg

    Sorry. I really didn’t mean to twist what you said, and I’m not trying to scold you. I totally agree that poorly informed voters are a big problem.