The steel pipes welded into campaign sign frames throughout Huntington Beach are rust-colored, but to some of the city's environmentalists, they have become red flags for developer-backed candidates.
One of the worst-kept secrets in the city, critics say, is that the Huntington Beach Co. has worked behind the scenes to help its favorite candidates by giving them access to the giant sign frames and using company trucks and a crane to place them in strategic locations.
Company officials say the signposts--actually steel frames about 8 feet tall and 4 feet wide made from old oil pipes--are available to any candidate and that they are rented, not donated. But since the signs first appeared on city streets about 10 years ago, critics say the only candidates who have used them are supporters of the city's biggest developer.
"That's the way I understand it, they give them to their friends," said Clancy Yoder, a councilman in 1980. "Whenever I see them I sort of throw up because that's the way I look at it."
Former Huntington Beach Mayor Robert Mandic said he figured he never had access to the signposts because "I'm not one of their boys."
"In the past," he said, "it has always been for people they supported."
Even Councilman John Erskine, who won election in 1986 on a pro-business slate backed by the development company, acknowledged that the signposts have become controversial.
"Many of the people around town know . . . they are from a major landowner and it's just a reminder of that," he said. "I think regardless of what financial arrangement might be made, there is a perception problem with the signs."
This year the company's signposts are spread throughout the 58th Assembly District on behalf of Huntington Beach Mayor Thomas J. Mays, a Republican in a close primary race in Tuesday's election. In the county supervisor's race, the signposts are also being used by the incumbent from Huntington Beach, Harriett M. Wieder, who is facing four challengers.
Mays is running for a seat in the coastal Assembly district, which includes Huntington Beach and Long Beach, as an environmentalist. He has been highlighting his leadership role in last February's American Trader oil spill off Huntington Beach. And he boasts that he has not received any contributions from the Huntington Beach Co.
But the company's president, Roger Work, has given Mays' campaign $1,000. And Mays' campaign finance report released last week shows thousands of dollars in contributions from development companies, some of them involved in projects with the city in its redevelopment effort and its controversial plans for construction on the waterfront.
Mays was also involved in a campaign controversy recently when the chairman of the city's Planning Commission held a fund-raiser for Mays at the candidate's home. The event was attended by several major Huntington Beach developers.
"I am a pro-business candidate and that's why I'm being supported by them," Mays said. "It has nothing to do with projects or anything else. I just happen to be philosophically going in the right direction."
Mays also said the involvement of builders in his campaign does not contrast with his stand as an environmentalist.
"Just because somebody is pro-business doesn't mean they're anti-environment," he said. "That's ridiculous."
Regarding the signposts, Mays said they should not be interpreted as support from the Huntington Beach Co. because he paid to use them. Mays said he will pay Huntington Seacliff Corp.--a subsidiary of the Huntington Beach Co.--$540 for the use and distribution of 36 signposts in the last three weeks of the campaign.
Mays did not list the payment in his finance report filed last week. Thursday he released a copy of an invoice, dated May 14, from the Seacliff Corp. for the signs.