Roman Barba works at a car dealership and owns three rental homes in Gonzales. He considers his life to be an uncontroversial one – until it got political this election season.
About a month ago, signs he’d mounted on his private properties in support of Measure Z – a county ballot measure that would ban fracking, wastewater injection and new oil wells in Monterey County – began to disappear. The signs were fixed on fences, next to signboards in support of Gonzales mayoral candidate Henry Martinez Jr., who also supports Measure Z and is running against longtime mayor Maria Orozco.
It happened three nights in a row, Barba says. Still, he got new signs. Then, one night a stronger message was delivered: Three of his wooden fence posts were kicked down and his signs were stolen – again.
“It became personal,” he says. “This was intimidation.”
Barba is one of at least seven people in South County who have complained about their Yes on Measure Z signs being stolen. While the signs cost $3 each and it is not a felony, sign theft is still a crime.
Karen Hanretty, a spokesperson for the No on Measure Z campaign, declined to be interviewed but said in an email: “It is a crime in California for a person to steal political signs. Anyone who has had a sign stolen should contact local law enforcement.”
The reports are coming from predominantly Latino communities, where city officials have been outspoken about their opposition to the measure.
Margaret Rebecchi, the Yes on Z Latino outreach coordinator, thinks there’s a connection between the disappearing signs and demographics: “I think the reason is they know they are Latinos and are trying to intimidate them.”
In King City, Mayor Robert Cullen endorsed No on Measure Z early in the election cycle. (He faces a challenge from Gabriel Trujillo.) Cullen says he’s been active in educating the public about the fiscal costs to the county if Measure Z passes; the industry last year paid about $8 million in property taxes.
However, Rebecchi says a couple of business owners in downtown King City say they’ve been intimidated into taking down their signs. Rebecchi claims city employees told the landlords Measure Z would cost jobs and they should remove the signs; according to a county auditor’s report, between 267 and 732 jobs could be lost if Z passes.
Cullen denies pressuring anyone to remove Yes on Z signs. He says the most he’s done when he notices Yes on Z signs is call the Chamber of Commerce to push for more No on Z outreach.
In Salinas, Mary Hsia-Coron, a Yes on Z volunteer, says she has received notices from the city to take down sandwich boards erected in front of the campaign office on Main Street.
“I believe Mayor [Joe] Gunter is using the power of the city to harass us,” Hsia-Coron says. “We feel singled out.”
Gunter opposes the measure and has even been featured in a TV commercial, but denies being involved in any intimidation tactics. He says he’s learned about both sides, made up his mind and simply endorsed No on Z.
“I have not asked anyone to take down any signs,” Gunter says. “That’s not my job, that is up to the individuals. This is not the way this city or any city should be doing business.”