Editorial: Caltrans should stay off people's lawns

July 11, 2013 

4ED11SIGN

A campaign sign to stop the water tunnels Gov. Jerry Brown wants to build catches the attention of motorists on Highway 160 in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

RANDALL BENTON — rbenton@sacbee.com

Caltrans officials should not be surprised that they are being accused of selective enforcement by removing "Stop the Tunnels" signs from people's yards in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

That's right. Caltrans workers have been going into people's yards and pulling out signs.

According to a Caltrans spokesman interviewed by The Bee's Matt Weiser, the state employees were simply enforcing a California law that bans "any private sign" within 14 feet of a state right of way.

We are all for limiting distracting signage and scenic blight along California's roadways. But Caltrans, at the least, appears to be remarkably inconsistent in enforcing this little-known part of state law.

"We are outraged," said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, director of Restore the Delta, a group that opposes the governor's tunnel protect aimed at more easily shipping water south. "This is biased enforcement of little-used provisions to silence critics of the governor's proposed peripheral tunnels."

It's impossible to know if Caltrans officials were intentionally attempting to muzzle the "Stop the Tunnels" movement by pulling out the signs.

But if officials can't be accused of censorship, they certainly can be accused of lousy judgment. Didn't they realize the tunnels project has triggered intense passions in the Delta? Did they ever think to send property owners a warning notice before coming on their property to remove the signs?

They also couldn't get their story straight.

First they told residents that state law prohibits political signs within 660 feet of a freeway. But when Delta residents pointed to all the "Congress Created Dust Bowl" signs in the San Joaquin Valley installed by farmers who support the Delta water tunnels, Caltrans back off that claim. It now says it is enforcing a different, 14-foot rule.

Delta water politics are contentious enough without Caltrans getting involved. Can't highway officials put their attentions elsewhere – such as safely opening a new span of the Bay Bridge?

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