A new time, place and manner of restrictions on the display of political campaign signs in the public right-of-way are expected to take effect in Livermore this fall.
The Livermore City Council at its July 27 meeting voted 4-0 to prohibit the display of political campaign signs in the public right-of-way sooner than what is effectively 60 days prior to an election. Vice Mayor Bob Woerner, who is running for mayor, recused himself from the vote.
The approved changes are tentatively scheduled to be introduced at the council’s Aug. 10 meeting, and return for a second reading at an Aug. 24 meeting. The proposed 60-day limit could be in place as early as Sept. 4, 60 days before the Nov. 3 election, said City Attorney Jason Alcala. While there has traditionally been a community expectation that campaign signs will not be erected more than 30 days before an election, the restriction does not currently exist in the city's Municipal Code, Alcala said.
Prior to voting for changes, councilmembers rejected an ordinance recommended by city staff that would have changed the city’s temporary sign rules for noncommercial signs in the public right-of-way to: (1) limit the display to daylight hours between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. downtown and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. elsewhere; and (2) limit the duration to no more than 90 days prior to a scheduled event. The Livermore Planning Commission voted at its July 27 meeting to recommend the city council deny the changes proposed by city staff.
“Do signs have to be removed every day outside the hours that they are allowed to be up?” Councilman Bob Coomber asked following a presentation on the staff recommendations.
Presenter Susan Frost, a special projects coordinator with the Livermore planning division, confirmed that this was correct.
“Wow. So during a campaign you’ll have to have people going up and down the streets putting signs up and taking them down twice a day,” Coomber said.
The rejected changes sought to address complaints about unattended, stolen and vandalized signs littering the landscape. The rationale for the daily requirement to take down signs was that it would significantly reduce vandalism and theft, which primarily happens at night.
Robert Carling stated he was concerned that limiting the display of signs in the public right-of-way to daylight hours went too far.
“We just need people to behave differently than they did the last couple of elections,” he said. “I don’t think having limitations on the time of day when signs can be up in the public area is the right approach.”
The approved changes regulate only the placement of noncommercial signs, including political campaign signs, within the public right-of-way, not on private property. The right-of-way includes public streets and an area about ten feet wide behind the curb. Signs are typically placed adjacent to sidewalks in landscaped areas.
Existing rules prohibit the placement of temporary signs on street medians, sidewalks or streets, traffic signals, streetlight poles and utility poles.
Because the sign rules regulate protected speech, any changes the city council makes must be consistent with the constitutionally protected First Amendment right to free speech.