Bad sign: Local campaigns marred by thefts, shifty ads

Reflecting some of the politics traditionally associated with national races, Los Altos campaigning in the 2018 general election is being soiled by a rash of stolen signs, attacks on candidates and misleading advertising.

As residents wake up today to the news of Tuesday’s election results, they also prepare to move on from one of the more volatile local election seasons in recent memory. Most of the mischief seems related to the polarizing issues behind Measure C, an initiative that would require voter approval for any change in city-owned property through sale, lease or rezoning. Numerous residents both for and against the measure have complained about sign thefts.

Resident Mary Cunneen Lion noted that a surveillance camera showed someone removing a 3-foot-by-4-foot $100 sign supporting Measure C at approximately 9:25 p.m. Oct. 12 at the corner of West Edith and Los Altos avenues.

“Someone just walked over, took it down, rolled it into a ball and tucked it under his arm,” she said.

Lion has since put up a new sign at the same location.

Candidates for local races also have been experiencing problems with sign thefts.

“Getting ridiculous,” chimed in Los Altos City Council candidate Nancy Bremeau Oct. 11. “I’ve had signs stolen from the same location three times.”

One resident reported a number of Bremeau signs found “trashed” at Stanford Shopping Center.

Los Altos resident and downtown property owner Abby Ahrens said she’s had her “No on C” and candidate signs stolen from her residence while her main house undergoes a remodel.

“What the perpetrator is unaware of is the construction cameras that witness the events,” she said. “We are waiting until after the election to decide whether to provide evidence to the police.”

“I do know there have been a lot of signs removed,” said resident Roberta Phillips, citing problems with “Yes on C” thefts as well as signs for council candidates.

“I think it’s so childish,” she said. “People should respect other people’s points of view, and people shouldn’t be trespassing on other people’s properties.”

The city of Los Altos tallied 160-plus complaints through Oct. 24 – some are alleged violations of the city’s sign ordinance that dictates signs cannot occupy an area greater than 12 square feet, while others are right-of-way violations or sign placements not approved by the property owner.

Appropriate use of mailers also has sparked debate. Los Altos City Councilwoman Lynette Lee Eng’s mailer last week in support of Measure C drew flak not only from opponents, but also from a fellow council member. Lee Eng’s mailer used a letterhead with her council title and her association with the city of Los Altos.

“(Lee Eng) is misleading residents,” Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins said last week after viewing Lee Eng’s letter and its envelope with the return address, “city of Los Altos.” “While council members are entitled to express their personal opinion, I feel it is bad form to do so in a manner that leads the public to believe one is speaking in their capacity as an elected official and thereby representing the city.”

Lee Eng said she was not misrepresenting herself.

“I am following the law,” she said, noting that fellow Councilwoman Jan Pepper also used her council title in an Oct. 31 Town Crier letter to the editor opposing Measure C.

Lee Eng pointed to campaigning guidelines under the Institute for Local Government, which states that public officials can take stances on various ballot measures and use their titles “for identification purposes only.”

The latest election cycle also has featured the political action group Friends of Los Altos taking aim at incumbent Mayor Jean Mordo, writing a piece Oct. 16 suggesting he was unfit for office.

“(I am) saddened that such divisions are being stoked in Los Altos in a similar manner as they are in the national elections,” wrote Los Altos resident Nomi Trapnell in an Oct. 16 Town Crier letter to the editor.

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