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Political Signs

The materials contained on this page represent the research and opinions of the staff at the Santa Cruz County Clerk/Elections Department. The contents of this page and any legal interpretations contained herein are not to be relied upon as being correct either factually or as legal opinion. Reliance on the content without prior submission to and approval of your appropriate public counsel is at the reader’s risk.Thank you.

Outdoor Political Advertising – State Law

Section 5405.3 of the State Outdoor Advertising Act (Business & Professions Code) authorizes the placing of "temporary political signs" separate and apart from the normal outdoor advertising controls.  No political sign may be placed within the right‑of‑way of any highway or within 660 feet of the edge of and visible from the right‑of‑way of a landscaped freeway.

Temporary political signs are those that meet the following criteria:

  • Encourages a particular vote in a scheduled election;
  • Is placed not sooner than 90 days prior to the scheduled election and is removed within 10 days after the election;
  • Is no larger than 32 square feet;
  • Has had a "Statement of Responsibility" filed with the State Department of Transportation, Division of Traffic Operations, Outdoor Advertising Program, P.O. Box 94287, MS-36, Sacramento, 94274-0001, certifying a person who will be responsible for removing the signs and who will reimburse the department for any cost incurred to remove it.  Forms are available at the Santa Cruz County Elections Department.  Call 916-654-5327 for more information. http://www.dot.ca.gov/oda/political_signs.htm

The law directs the Department of Transportation to remove signs that do not comply with the regulations before an election and to bill the responsible party for removal costs after the election.

Penal Code Sections 556, 556.1 and 556.3 provide that it is a misdemeanor for any person to place a sign to advertise on public or private property (without consent); and that it shall be considered a public nuisance.

Penal Code Section 556.  
It is a misdemeanor for any person to place or maintain, or cause to be placed or maintained without lawful permission upon any property of the State, or of a city or of a county, any sign, picture, transparency, advertisement, or mechanical device which is used for the purpose of advertising or which advertises or brings to notice any person, article of merchandise, business or profession, or anything that is to be or has been sold, bartered, or given away.

Penal Code Section 556.1
It is a misdemeanor for any person to place or maintain or cause to be placed or maintained upon any property in which he has no estate or right of possession any sign, picture, transparency, advertisement, or mechanical device which is used for the purpose of advertising, or which advertises or brings to notice any person, article of merchandise, business or profession, or anything that is to be or has been sold, bartered, or given away, without the consent of the owner, lessee, or person in lawful possession of such property before such sign, picture, transparency, advertisement, or mechanical device is placed upon the property.

Penal Code Section 556.3.  
Any sign, picture, transparency, advertisement, or mechanical device placed on any property contrary to the provisions of Sections 556 and 556.1, is a public nuisance.

PG&E prohibits the attachment of campaign signs to PG&E utility poles or other facilities. The U. S. Supreme court ruled that third parties have no right to use utility property to communicate messages to the public [Pacific Gas and Electric v. Public Utilities Commission, 475 U.E.1 (1986)]

Outdoor Political Advertising -- Santa Cruz County Code

Santa Cruz County Code, Section 13.10.583 states political signs are allowed without restriction; provided, that they shall not be placed so as to constitute a traffic hazard and that they shall be removed not more than 10 days after the election to which they refer.

Signs may be removed by authorized Public Works staff if they:

  1. Block the sight distance on county roads at intersections of county roads, private roads or driveways.
  2. Restrict the use of the highway or otherwise clearly cause problems for the traveling public.
  3. Obscure fire hydrants, traffic signs, traffic signals or other traffic control devices.
  4. Are attached to or distract the attention of drivers from any traffic control device.
  5. Interfere with normal maintenance efforts.
  6. Are identified as other traffic hazards by the Director of Public Works consistent with the content of this policy.

Action to remove signs under categories 1 through 4 above, generally requires immediate attention. For those matters covered under categories 5 and 6, Public Works staff will make reasonable effort to contact the responsible party, to relocate or remove the signs within 24 hours.

Streets and Highways Code Section 1480.5 
The road commissioner may immediately remove, or by notice may require the removal of, any of the following encroachments:
(a) An encroachment which obstructs or prevents the use of a county highway by the public.
(b) An encroachment which consists of refuse.
(c) An encroachment which is a traffic hazard.
(d) An encroachment which is an advertising sign or device of any description, unless excepted by subdivision (c) of Section 1460. The road commissioner may return such sign or device to its owner, or otherwise dispose of it in his discretion, except that if the commissioner determines in good faith that the sign or other device is of more than nominal value he shall not effect such other disposition until he has made a reasonable attempt to identify and notify the owner of the sign or device and provided a reasonable time for the owner to retrieve it under provisions of this section. The return of such sign or device to its owner may be conditioned upon payment of an amount sufficient to reimburse the road commissioner for the expense of removal.
The road commissioner may recover from the person causing any of the above encroachments, in an action brought in the name of the county for that purpose, the court costs of the road commissioner, the expense of such removal, and any other damages caused by the encroachment.

Outdoor Political Advertising ‑ City Ordinances

Each city in Santa Cruz County has rules and regulations regarding outdoor political advertising.  Contact the city clerk in Santa Cruz (831-420-5030), Capitola (831-475‑7300), Scotts Valley (831-440-5602) or Watsonville (831-768‑3040) for more information.

Removal of Political Signs

Political signs shall be removed not more than 10 days after the election to which they refer.