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Signs of drama 

With less than a month until the Nov. 6 election, those campaign sign kerfuffles are coming in hot. It's that time of year when people start stealing their neighbors' lawn signs, the complaints over campaign signs being erected on purportedly public property start raining down on city halls throughout SLO County, and angry self-righteous residents hate-type emails to newspapers and county officials.

Ah, I love the smell of overblown reactions in the morning.

T. Keith Gurnee supporters are positively convulsing over the audacity of gigantic signs advertising the re-election of Mayor Heidi Harmon in (gasp!) residential neighborhoods. One particularly pissed-off person was passionate enough to pen a pickled email to New Times calling the "HUGE near-billboard-sized signs in neighborhoods ... just more indication of this arrogant woman's disdain for anything she doesn't find convenient." Wow, Richard Schmidt, tell us how you really feel.

"I should hope New Times is doing a story on the campaign of Heidi Harmon's blatant flaunting of city law," he dared us. Well, yes, as a matter of fact we dared. Only, it's probably not the story you wanted us to write.

Gotcha Heidi! Not.

Schmidt wasn't just fuming to New Times, he was indignant about the audacious red glow of liberally-sized Harmon signs (see what I did there?) on Nextdoor—a good place to cyber-spy on the some of the angriest residents in the happiest city on Earth.

"How nice that Mayor Harmon has found a new way to trash our neighborhoods," Schmidt proclaimed from his Nextdoor soapbox. "How nice, too, that the staff you oversee have chosen to look the other way at your violation of community standards and laws."

Uh, it might be best to double-check those pesky fact-a-roos before accusing city staff and the mayor of doing illegal things. We wouldn't want any fake news to get out there or anything. Luckily, you came to the right place! New Times is here for you!

Turns out, there is a sign ordinance and it does say that gigantic campaign signs in residential neighborhoods aren't allowed. But, before you hitch those britches up in a display of self-satisfaction, as usual things are a bit more complicated than all that. You see, this wee judicial body known as the Supreme Court of the United States made a decision in a case called Reed v. Town of Gilbert in June 2015. That opinion essentially states that content-based sign regulations are a violation of the First Amendment.

Here's the way that SLO City Manager Derek Johnson explained it to a city resident who was looking for campaign sign code clarification: "This case prohibits a city from imposing time, place, and manner restrictions on signage simply because of what the sign says."

So, the city's sign ordinance is essentially unenforceable and violates the First Amendment, therefore the city isn't enforcing it. Technically, Harmon's campaign signs are legit. Why hasn't the city (or the county for that matter) updated its ordinance? That's the real question.

Odile Ayral—who joins Schmidt in his love to hate Harmon haze—called the police about the signs and reported the issue to code enforcement! "I have toyed with the idea of spray painting the sign on Chorro with black paint, which might bring attention to how Harmon is happy to break the law, but I'm not sure it would be legal either," she wrote to Schmidt in an email.

Yeah, um, actually, that's called vandalism.

Just ask the person who threw Christmas ornaments filled with poop-colored paint at re-elect Mayor Jim Hill signs in Arroyo Grande! Was it satisfying? Probably. Hill is soooo annoying. If that person (or people) gets caught, will the fines counteract that satisfaction? Depends on the punishment.

According to Hill's Facebook page, the paint also damaged public and private property—and luckily, volunteers helped the mayor repaint his very basic yellow signs with black block letters.

"Hummm, I haven't seen any of Jim's opponent signs damaged. 'Juz sayin,'" wrote Mark Wampler on Hill's Facebook page.

Ooh, a veiled insinuation about Hill's challenger Caren Ray, who wrote this on her Facebook page after she found out about the poopy-paint: "This kind of behavior saddens and disgusts me. I urge everyone to be respectful of all candidates and their signs and remember that the best way to show support is to make sure you vote on November 6."

It's true folks.

So why all the sign stealing? Ray and Hill supporters have both reported their signs being stolen off their front lawns. Same for Gurnee and Harmon supporters. And why all the complaints about supposed signs on public property? Here's just one: Atascadero resident Leland Collins was just convinced that city property was being used to advocate for certain City Council residents and sent New Times a note complete with assessor's parcel numbers. Turns out, he was wrong about that parcel number. The signs are on private property.

Everyone is just so cocksure that there's a conspiracy on the "other side" to gain the upper hand. Why can't you simply let people have their opinions? This is America, dammit. We are all entitled to our opinions—whether you like them or not.

Shout them from the rooftops, from the garden, from the balconies, from the fences, and from the dirt-covered surfaces of vacant lots. Say it loud and proud with a gigantic signs in your front yard. And then shut up and vote.

The Shredder is full of opinions at shredder@newtimesslo.com.

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