The Briefing Room: political signs, police and signage laws


Removing signs without the consent of the sign owner is petty theft

Hi Sun Readers,

As we get closer to Election Day, we have seen an increase in political and campaign signs in and around town. Every election season we get asked about the rules for these signs in Seal Beach. The rules are pretty straightforward.

The Seal Beach Municipal Code regulates signs placed on public property. Specifically, §7.20.075 states (in part):

“A. Purpose. The purpose of this section is to curb the visual assault on citizens presented by an accumulation of signs posted on public property.

“B. Prohibition. No person shall paint, mark, or write on, or post or otherwise affix, any handbill or sign to or upon any public right-of-way, sidewalk, crosswalk, curb, curbstone, street lamp post, hydrant, tree, shrub, tree stake or guard, railroad trestle, electric light or power or telephone or telegraph or trolley wire pole, or appurtenances or apparatus connected therewith, or wire appurtenant thereof or upon any fixture of the fire alarm or police telegraph system or upon any lighting system or public bridge, drinking fountain, life buoy, life preserver, life boat, or other life-saving equipment, street sign or traffic sign owned or maintained by any public entity or public utility.

“C. Removal. Any handbill or sign found posted, or otherwise affixed, upon any property contrary to the provisions of this section is declared to be a public nuisance and may be removed by the city. The person responsible for any such illegal posting shall be liable for the cost incurred in the removal and the city manager may effect the collection of that cost.”

If we locate political signs posted on public property, we will remove them and hold them at the Seal Beach Police Department for a couple of days. If the owner does not come to collect them, they are thrown away.

For full disclosure, I had to look up what “appurtenance” meant. (According to Merriam-Webste, the first definition is “accessory objects.”) Also, I don’t think we’ve had a police telegraph system here in decades. I’d love to hear more about this system if anyone knows about them.

Okay, so what about signs on private property? Generally, signs may be posted on your own property or on private property with the permission of the owner. We don’t normally have many issues with this, but on occasion we have had people steal or deface signs placed on private property.

Removing signs without the consent of the sign owner is a violation of §488 of the California Penal Code, Petty Theft. This is a misdemeanor violation. Defacing a sign is vandalism and is also a misdemeanor (§594 California Penal Code).

We all know that tensions are high and that this year’s election has become increasingly polarizing. Please remember to respect the views of other people, even if you don’t agree with them politically. Please don’t post signs on public property, and don’t steal or deface signs on private property. We will investigate all reports of theft or vandalism.