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Campaign signs go missing in Yuba-Sutter
For political candidates, it seems, there are unavoidable realities of running for local office: You'll have to raise money. You'll have to walk a lot of neighborhoods.
And, inevitably, you'll have to replace stolen, vandalized or missing campaign signs, be accused of messing with another campaign's signs, or both.
"Unfortunately, it's part of the nature of campaigns these days," says Coleen Morehead, a public relations consultant who has helped run local campaigns in the Yuba-Sutter area since the 1990s.
This year is proving no different.
Candidates in supervisors races in both Sutter and Yuba counties, as well as those seeking the 3rd Congressional District seat, say their signs go missing from corners, fences and yards with no explanation.
Rob Klotz, a Live Oak city councilman running for a Sutter County supervisor seat, says that in the last 30 days he has had at least five signs stolen and 10 vandalized.
"What's funny with the stolen signs, two of them were on Highway 99," he says. "People could've seen something, but obviously, no one did."
Another supervisor candidate, Preet Didbal, says last week as many as 50 of her signs have gone missing in the vicinity of Walton Avenue, leading her to file a complaint with the Sutter County Sheriff's Department.
In Yuba County, supervisor candidate Veronica Ramos says someone has torn down dozens of her signs, and sheriff's deputies reported finding a pile of them — along with signs from other campaigns — in a lot on Ostrom Road.
Candidates describe the situation as frustrating because it means money spent to replace what's lost, and time spent to put them back up.
And the frustration might also stem from the harsh fact of sign stealing: Rarely does anyone get caught.
"We absolutely want the crimes to be reported," says Lt. Damon Gil, a spokesman for the Yuba County Sheriff's Department. "But you have to catch a break. In general, you have to catch them in the act."
Gil says his department has received a handful of complaints from campaigns about stolen signs this year, but he can't recall anyone being charged in connection with such a case in recent years.
Occasionally someone is caught, and sometimes it's the person who can least afford it. In 1998, a Republican primary for an Assembly seat in Ventura County was scandalized when the campaign for Tony Strickland released videotape footage of his opponent, Rich Sybert, tearing down Strickland's signs. Strickland went on to win the election.
Because of the risk involved, not to mention the weight on one's conscience, deliberately removing another campaign's signs is a highly dubious tactic, says Charles C. Turner, a political science professor at California State University, Chico.
"Is it a good strategy? It seems, ethically, it's not," he says.
Then again, he points out, there are times when campaign signs are removed for wholly legitimate reasons. A sign put up on a rental property, for example, might come down if the renter gave permission, but the property owner didn't. Or vice versa.
Turner says that if a number of signs go missing in a neighborhood, it might be one person in particular — not even affiliated with a campaign — who targets a campaign's signs. Klotz says he noticed, in one case, other signs on a fence next to his were left undisturbed.
Morehead says that campaign signs can also be removed for more mundane reasons. If they happen to be in a public right-of way, they legally can't stay up.
And she's also heard of property owners agreeing for one campaign sign to be posted on their property, then changing who they support and letting another campaign sign be put in the first one's place.
"I will tell you, there's always a risk your sign will be removed," she says. "Usually, it happens in the dark of night."
For as much frustration as it incurs, candidates say they understand it will happen. Ramos says she's looking into finding a way to catch someone doing it.
But Klotz says there's not much you can do to stop it completely.
"It comes with the territory."