Residents Clash Over Removal of Posters

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With elections Tuesday and candidates combing neighborhoods for votes, the first bloodshed over the City Council race allegedly occurred Saturday.

A Berkeley resident, who did not want his named used for fear of his safety, said he was accosted after taking down the signs of District 6 candidate Eleanor Pepples - a new development in a long history of Berkeley "sign wars".

He said that, after having an argument with Carl Martineau, a Pepples supporter, he got in his car to drive away, only to have Martineau bash in his windshield and side window with a flashlight, in the process leaving some of his blood on the windshield. The man said he was not hurt as the glass fell around him but that he had to replace four car windows.

Martineau, who has been a very vocal opponent of taking down the signs, declined to comment on the alleged incident. Pepples said Martineau contacted her campaign indicating that he was acting in self defense when he perceived the man in the car was trying to run him over. Berkeley police Lt. Cynthia Harris said police observed damage to the vehicle and are investigating.

"I'm trying to win this election on ideas and it's disappointing that my First Amendment rights have been violated," Pepples said.

But the sign remover cited a California Public Utilities Commission rule that does not allow posters to be placed on utility poles.

"If I see signs in our general vicinity that are illegally placed, I don't see why I shouldn't take them down," he says. "(The rule) doesn't get much enforcement, so it's up to the citizens who don't want blight in their neighborhood."

Martineau said that, since the city does not enforce the state rule, it should prevent citizens from doing so as well, since it puts lesser known candidates at a disadvantage. He said he has confronted a man in the past who continually tears down Pepples's signs, as Martineau continually puts them up. Both men have called the police on each other.

While Martineau believes the sign remover to be a supporter of incumbent Betty Olds, the man denies this, saying he always has taken down all the signs in his neighborhood.


The City Attorney's office released a report of possible violations of the Berkeley Election Reform Act and with city law, which are so strict and complex, virtually no one escaped unscathed.

Some of the most serious possible offenses had to do with contributions to City Council campaigns from businesses - a practice that is outlawed in Berkeley.

For example, District 2 incumbent Margaret Breland will have to pay Au Coquelet Cafe for providing her space for a fundraiser. Her campaign manager said she did not know non-monetary contributions were also prohibited, according to the report.

The possible violations of Breland's challenger, Betty Hicks, make up the vast majority of the report, as she originally reported donations by four local businesses.

City staff report that they contacted the Hicks campaign several times, starting on Oct. 5, but that Hicks did not actually return the money until the end of the month.

Hicks had said the donations were actually from the owners of the businesses and not the companies themselves. But later her campaign "was unable to definitively state" where the contributions were from. The treasurer did not have copies of the checks.

"They've got their money back," Hicks said. "We cleared up everything. I don't want any dirt."

But the checks Hicks sent back were made out to the businesses, not individuals, leading some of her political opponents to suggest she is not trustworthy.

"I'm puzzled by that too," said Thomas Luten, a member of the Fair Campaign Practices Commission. "The facts are a little mysterious."

The City Attorney has recommended that no action be taken until the staff completes its investigation. In the case of a violation, candidates usually pay a fine to the city, but if they refuse and are ruled against in court, they can also lose public office, Luten said.


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