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BUENA PARK : City Grapples With New Policy on Signs

The candidates haven’t even gotten out of the starting blocks, and already this city’s November election is causing a showdown.

But the mudslinging here isn’t among those vying for seats. Instead, the City Council is battling it out over a law that restricts where and when candidates can put up endorsement signs.

Under a proposed ordinance, placards could be placed in city-owned parkways--the area between the sidewalk and the curb--without the adjacent property owners’ consent. It would also eliminate an existing clause which prohibits signs from being put up more than 30 days before the election.

“Politicians are going to be able to place signs between the curb and sidewalk, and you don’t have the right to take it down,” said Councilman Don R. Griffin, who opposes the changes. “I think it is a disgrace.”

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However, attorney Andrew Arczynski, who provides legal counsel for Buena Park, said the city’s current restrictions are unconstitutional. Recent court decisions prohibit cities from treating political signs and nonpolitical signs differently, he said.

Buena Park is the latest city in Orange County to grapple with the question of political signs, and its neighbors have arrived at a variety of ways to address the issue. Some cities view the signs as essential to the political process, while others see them simply as trash.

In Laguna Beach, candidates just know better than to put signs up at all, said Verna L. Rollinger, city clerk for that coastal city. “Most candidates are sensitive enough to know that signs are an issue in this town, and they don’t do it,” Rollinger said.

Political signs are not specifically addressed in Laguna Beach’s city code. They are lumped with other sign restrictions, leaving commercial property as one of the only places they are allowed, Rollinger said, adding, “Basically, we are not big on political signs.”

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However, pass through Huntington Beach during election time, and it’s a different story. Signs are likely to be plastered everywhere: utility poles, parkways, private property.

“They are definitely all over the place,” said Michael Gregory, a land-use technician for the city.

One of the only restrictions in Huntington Beach is that the signs don’t interfere with traffic, he said. This was evident in June when the city was inundated with signs from local supervisorial elections and state Assembly races. The clutter does spark an occasional complaint, Gregory said: “Some people don’t like such a showy atmosphere.”

The recent court decisions classifying political signs as the purest form of free speech have prompted many cities to ease restrictions. Some allow them in all public places as long as they don’t create traffic hazards.

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In Buena Park, those pushing to have the current law revamped point to the constitutional questions raised by the recent cases.

“I have to base my judgment on what legal counsel says,” Mayor Donald L. Bone said.

But the political hot potato is still up in the air. After several study sessions, the council has yet to reach a decision, and at its latest meeting, three council members indicated that they would vote against the changes.

The council is expected to take the matter up once again at its meeting today.

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