First Amendment Project: Caltrans broke law by confiscating anti-tunnel signs

First Amendment Project: Caltrans broke law by confiscating anti-tunnel signs 

by Dan Bacher 



In the latest episode in the Brown administration's "Signgate" scandal, Restore the Delta Thursday released an expert legal opinion finding that the California Department of Transportation’s (Caltrans) confiscation of “Save the Delta! Stop the Tunnels!” signs displayed by Delta land and business owners was done without “any legal basis.” 


The legal opinion from the First Amendment Project to Restore the Delta refutes Caltrans’ assertion that the signs are illegal and cites a 1996 Attorney General opinion finding that the “expression of a political belief by a property owner whether displayed by signs or otherwise” is constitutionally protected.


"The 'Save the Delta!' signs are not covered by the Outdoor Advertising Act’s prohibitions against signs, both because they are not 'temporary political signs' that cannot be displayed within 660 feet of a right-of-way of a highway and because the Act does not (and can not) cover political signs of this nature," the opinion stated. "Accordingly, Caltrans did not have any legal basis to remove the signs." 


Delta advocates oppose the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels because the $54.1 billion project will hasten the extinction of Sacramento River Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Delta and longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species. The project would also, under the guise of "habitat restoration," take large areas of Delta farmland, some of the most fertile on the planet, out of production in order to deliver massive amounts of water to irrigate toxic, drainage-impaired land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. 


The peripheral tunnels also threaten salmon and steelhead restoration on the Trinity River, the Klamath's largest tributary. The Trinity, whose water is diverted to the Sacramento River via a tunnel to Whiskeytown Reservoir, is the only out of basin water supply for the federal Central Valley Project. 


Restore the Delta called on Governor Brown to stop using Caltrans to silence critics of his proposed peripheral tunnels, and to order Caltrans crews to cease removing the signs from private property. Restore the Delta will hold a protest in front of CalTrans headquarters, 1120 N Street, on Friday morning, July 12, at 10 am


“We are outraged that the Brown Administration is trampling the rights of business and land owners who have posted signs on their property opposing the Peripheral Tunnels,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta. 


“State government officials are acting like bullies and are interfering with the rights of Delta residents to state how they feel about Governor Brown’s plan to build the twin tunnels which will destroy their homes, their businesses, Bay area and coastal fisheries, and the largest estuary on the Pacific Coast of the Americas. 


“CalTrans did not follow the required process about notifying people to move signs if CalTrans believed they were not located properly. CalTrans does not have the right to enter private property to remove signs without following the legal process described in the Business and Professions Code. 


“Delta residents were threatened by CalTrans employees with huge $10,000 fines. CalTrans told Restore the Delta that residents could be fined if their signs were not 660 feet from the public right of way. 


“CalTrans does not enforce these same requirements up and down Hwy 99, H146, and I-5, where the water-takers post signs about wanting even more water at the expense of the Delta. The law is not enforced equally throughout the state — one standard for the Delta, one standard for mega growers in Westlands, Semitropic and Kern County water districts." 


"This unequal treatment of Delta residents under the law mirrors how water quality and quantity laws for the Delta are ignored by the State Water Resources Control Board, the Department of Water Resources, and the Delta Stewardship Council — all to benefit Westside San Joaquin Valley mega-growers. 


“Who decided that our signs needed to be confiscated? Is the Delta now fully under the ‘control’ of the State of California that they can dictate to private land and business owners?” Barrigan-Parrilla asked. 


Click here to view the First Amendment Opinion Letter:


For more information, contact: Steve Hopcraft 916/457-5546steve [at]; Twitter: @shopcraft 

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla 209/479-2053 barbara [at]; Twitter: @RestoretheDelta, 


Background: Brown continues and expands Schwarzenegger's terrible environmental policies 


The rush to build the peripheral tunnels, in spite of widespread opposition, is not the only abysmal Schwarzenegger administration environmental policy that the Brown administration has continued and expanded. Brown continued and expanded the massive water exports and fish kills at the Delta pumps that the Schwarzenegger regime became notorious for. 


The Brown administration authorized the export of record water amounts of water from the Delta in 2011 – 6,520,000 acre-feet, 217,000 acre feet more than the previous record of 6,303,000 acre feet set in 2005 under the Schwarzenegger administration. 


Brown also presided over the "salvage" of a record 9 million Sacramento splittail and over 2 million other fish including Central Valley salmon, steelhead, striped bass, largemouth bass, threadfin shad, white catfish and sturgeon in 2011. (


In addition, Brown and Natural Resources Secretary John Laird continued the privately-funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative started by Governor Schwarzenegger in 2004. The conflicts of interest, failure to comprehensively protect the ocean, shadowy private funding, incomplete and terminally flawed science and violation of the Yurok Tribe's traditional harvesting rights have made the MLPA Initiative to create so-called "marine protected areas into one of the worst examples of corporate greenwashing in California history. 


In a huge conflict of interest, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States Petroleum Association, chaired the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create so-called "marine protected areas" in Southern California. Reheis-Boyd, the oil industry's lead lobbyist for fracking, offshore oil drilling, the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline and the evisceration of environmental laws, also served on the MLPA task forces for the North Coast, North Central Coast and Central Coast. 


Other environmental policies of the Schwarzenegger administration that Brown and Laird have continued include engineering the collapse of six Delta fish populations by pumping massive quantities of water out of the Delta; presiding over the annual stranding of endangered coho salmon on the Scott and Shasta rivers; clear cutting forests in the Sierra Nevada; supporting legislation weakening the California Environmental Water Quality Act (CEQA); and embracing the corruption and conflicts of interests that infest California environmental processes and government bodies ranging from the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to the regional water boards. 


Now Brown has apparently expanded his war on fish, rivers, the ocean and the environment to the First Amendment as he confiscates signs of those who oppose the peripheral tunnels. What will Caltrans do next - start pulling bumper stickers off the vehicles of peripheral tunnel opponents?


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