Greg Hammel and some other volunteers for a local political campaign were putting up banners on the fence on the Las Positas overpass on June 3 when Caltrans and California Highway Patrol told them they had to take them down.
Mr. Hammel said the banners had been up for three or four weeks prior to the June 3 incident. The Goleta resident said that about a week or two ago, Caltrans said that the volunteers could hang the banners on the condition that someone was there to monitor the banners.
On June 3, the California Highway Patrol demanded we “take down our banners promoting election candidates from the Highway 101 Los Positas overpass,” Mr. Hammel told the News-Press.
“We explained to the officers that for the past three weeks, Caltrans allowed us to put up the banners as long as a person on each side of the freeway was present to administer to the banners,” Mr. Hammel said. “ We were complying with Caltrans’ request and had one person on each side of the sidewalk of the freeway overpass. We explained to the officer the agreement we had with Caltrans.”
Mr. Hammel recalled what he told the CHP officer: “I’ve known people who have hung banners for Ukraine, Larry Elder and recall elections on Sundays. They stay up all day.
“The officer didn’t deny it,” Mr. Hammel said. “He said ‘I’m not working on Sundays … The police called Caltrans, and Caltrans came down and asked us to take the signs down. ‘Sorry guys, the rules have changed.’ ”
“Based on the facts and the data, other political groups such as pro-Ukraine are allowed to put banners on multiple freeway passes, unattended up all day on Sundays,” Mr. Hammel told the News-Press. “I kinda know the Constitution so to me that was a violation of the 14th amendment, of equal protection under the law.”
CHP Officer Jonathan Gutierrez, the patrol’s public information officer, told the News-Press that the CHP received a call from Caltrans at 9:48 a.m. June 3 about the banners.
“Two males and a female were trying to hang political signs on the fence on the overpass. The fence is maintained by Caltrans,” Officer Gutierrez said. “The people got mad and were kind of chewing out the two Caltrans workers.”
He said Caltrans called for a response from CHP and the Santa Barbara Police Department.
“The Caltrans workers also called in their supervisors, and Caltrans supervisors explained that the banners create a visual hazard on the freeway,” Officer Gutierrez said. “When it was brought up in protest, the fact that the Ukrainian flag, and other banners were posted on the weekends, Caltrans explained that they do not work on the weekends, and any signs are taken down on Monday morning.
“They took the signs down and left, and that was it. There was no threat of arrest,” said Officer Gutierrez.
Caltrans confirmed this report.
Alexa Bertola, the public information officer for Caltrans District 5, told the News-Press, “We don’t allow any signs on overpasses regardless of topic, because it is a distraction to drivers. … I haven’t heard it was given the OK to put on the overpass because we don’t allow signs on the overpass because it is so dangerous for drivers. If a sign is removed, Caltrans will store the sign typically for 30 days and when possible will contact the person who has certified that they are responsible for the sign.
“If any sign is visible within right of way or within 660 feet of the edge of and visible from the right of way of the landscaped freeway, it will be removed regardless of issue, or candidate,” the Caltrans representative said.
Mr. Hammel didn’t tell the News-Press the names of the candidates in the banners.