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Council regulates larger campaign signs
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The Ceres City Council took action on Monday to more clearly define where large campaign signs may be posted during an election cycle.

City Hall received a number of complaints during the 2011 election about where signs were being placed, particularly along Hatch Road close to the roadway. The council reacted by exploring possible solutions, some of which are being enacted.

Around Ceres, explained Senior Planner Tom Westbrook, there are various types of rights of way. The new law going into effect states that a 4' x 8' political sign may be posted within 10 feet of the roadway if no sidewalk exists and does not obstruct vision. If a sidewalk is present, the sign may be placed five feet from the back edge of the sidewalk.

Placing signs on canal banks or other property of the Turlock Irrigation District is not permitted.

During a study session held earlier this year, the council rejected a plan that would have required candidates to post money to be able to erect signs, feeling that it would impinge on the free exercise of running for office and freedom of speech. The council, said City Attorney Mike Lyions, felt the collection of any fee upfront may be "stifling to an open campaign process" and said the existing system could "rely on the good character of those running for office to get the job done."

The council also did not like the idea of requiring candidates to submit a map of where signs would be placed. They also nixed the idea of a requirement to have candidates obtain written approval of private property owners to post signs in certain locations.

The council did like a proposal to give all candidates a list of sign rules with candidates signing a statement saying they read and understood the law, and to get a contact number of a person who could handle problems with sign placement.

The Planning Commission approved the changes in July in a 5-0 vote.

Ceres resident Leonard Shepherd asked if there were any penalties offered for candidates who fail to remove campaign signs within 10 days following an election. He expressly noted that he is bothered by candidates for run-off elections who leave their signs up for the interim.

City Attorney Mike Lyions said the city has the normal abatement procedure available to get signs taken down. He said the sign ordinance is subject to an administrative citation and possible court proceeding.

Shepherd said expressed his bother of people who leave up garage/yard sale signs.

The ordinance change does not affect a private homeowner from posting a smaller yard sign for candidates in an R-1 or R-3 zone permitted that the signs do not block the public's vision.

SAFER grants

In other action, the council heard that the city is ready to hire six new firefighters under the SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant program.

The $1.03 million SAFER grant will fund six firefighters for two years, with no obligation for the city to continue their employment unless it finds general fund monies to do so.

Five candidates have been offered employment and will be hired unless there are no problems with background checks.

"They are basically ready to go," said Public Safety Director/Acting City Manager Art deWerk. "They are people with a lot of experience."

DeWerk added: "It's unprecedented for us to be given a green light to hire and a few weeks later we have people processed to hire."

The news made resident Len Shepherd happy. The former state firefighter said Ceres "desperately needs those people to make this a safer fire department and a safer community."

CDBG funding

During Monday's meeting the council held a public hearing for input on a report of the current Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program.

Ceres was allocated $229,386 for the 2011-12 year and are being spent on building curb, gutter and sidewalk and storm drainage improvements on Magnolia from Central Avenue to El Camino Avenue; along El Camino Avenue from Magnolia Street to Central Avenue; Tenth Street from Lawrence Avenue to Don Pedro Road; Roeding Road from Ninth Street to Mitchell Road; Holly Court; and Don Pedro Road from Ninth Street to Mitchell Road.

The $351,636 project, awarded to J.J.R. Construction several months ago, is currently underway and is expected to be complete by November.

The cost will be funded out of two years of funding.