Berkeley warns campaigns to remove median signs — or divert taxpayer money

Campaign signs in the Sacramento Street median Friday. Rich Walkling, who shared this photo, said “there were about twice as many signs a few days ago.”

The city of Berkeley gave candidates and ballot measure committees a Friday deadline for removing all signs from city medians unless they want to divert money from the Parks Tax to pay for sign removal.

Medians are on the shortlist of places in the city where it’s illegal to post campaign signs, but many candidates or their supporters do so anyway, particularly along Sacramento Street.

Monday, the city sent a letter to all campaigns to let them know it was time to comply with the city’s rules about medians “due to regularly scheduled maintenance.” The city wrote that it would cost thousands of dollars if maintenance staffers had to deal with “these illegally placed signs.”

If signs are left in the median, the money to pay staff to remove them will come out of the Parks Tax fund, Measure F, which voters approved in 2014, according to Monday’s letter. Campaign rules prohibit the placement of signs on “wooden utility poles, public sidewalks, crosswalks, median strips, curbs, hydrants, trees, fire alarm systems or any traffic control fixture.”


City Clerk Mark Numainville said the city sends letters every election season to remind candidates about illegally placed signs. But he said this is the first year the city brought up the work of parks staff.

“If they don’t remove the signs, then parks staff has to spend extra time to do it before they do the mowing and the maintenance,” Numainville said. “We’re just hoping that would resonate with them, to help us create nice, sign-free medians that are well-maintained — and not waste city money on it.”

Campaign signs were still scattered through the median near North Berkeley BART on Friday. Photo: Helise Cohn

Numainville said “it’s an uphill battle every election” to deal with illegally-placed signs, and that the city always gets reports about the problem. But enforcement by city staff is tricky because of how sign removal “could be interpreted or misinterpreted by people happening by.”

“It’s a difficult position to put city employees in,” he said.

So the city’s approach has been to ask campaign committees to handle errant signs themselves. No matter who posts the signs, it’s the responsibility of the campaign committee to ensure placement is legal or that illegal signs are removed.

Numainville said he doesn’t recommend that members of the public take it upon themselves to remove signs — even if they are posted illegally. The best approach, he said, is to report problems to the clerk’s office, either by emailing clerk@cityofberkeley.info or calling 311.

Campaign signs were still scattered through the median near North Berkeley BART on Friday. Photo: Helise Cohn

He said the rule prohibiting signs in the median has been in effect for a long time.


“Part of it is safety, and part of it is aesthetics,” he said. “And part of it is the cost to the city when we do have to maintain the medians.”

He said one campaign had asked when the maintenance would take place and whether it would be ongoing.

“We just told them it doesn’t matter when the maintenance is scheduled for,” he said, “because the sign’s not supposed to be there in the first place.”

Numainville reminded voters that Monday is the deadline to register online for the November election. A ballot box is set up at 2180 Milvia St. for those looking for a secure, free place to cast their vote.

Signs in a Berkeley median this week. Photo: Citizen reporter