When it comes to publicly displaying political signs, many people believe that a general right of “free speech” grants them vast leeway in terms of what and where they may post such signs.
As with many situations where people think they know their rights, these rights are not as broad and open-ended as one may believe.
Although “free speech” prevents the government from aggressively regulating the content of political signs, local ordinances may impose valid restrictions on the manner of how such signs are displayed.
In Newport Beach, for instance, political signs for political candidates are allowed only on private property.
They are not permitted on public or city-owned property and any such signs placed on city owned property are subject to removal. City property includes light poles, traffic signs, trees, and places located on traffic medians, sidewalks, parkways, and parks.
Yet even on private property, there are still restrictions on what can be displayed.
A maximum of 3 signs are permitted on any private property. There is also a size limit – however, this limit is not on each sign but on the total area taken up by all signs. Political signs may comprise a total area of no more than 6 feet wide and 4 feet high. This total size can be divided up however the property owner chooses among one or more signs.
In addition to Newport Beach’s city ordinances, the County of Orange also regulates the timing of political sign placement.
Under County Code Section 31.5-141(e), a political sign may be displayed no sooner than 90 days before the election or referendum pertaining to that particular sign, and must then be removed within 10 days after the vote has taken place. Signs that are not timely removed are considered abandoned property and may be forcibly removed.
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