Officials raise concerns over San Benito campaign signs

If we are not mindful of the safety of the people, then what the heck are we doing (in public office)? Our priority ought to be the safety of the people.

SAN BENITO — Rows of political signs are stretching across much of the city amid concerns some candidates’ signs are posing safety hazards as some of the hottest city and school elections in years close in.

Now, Mayor Rick Guerra and City Commissioner Pete Galvan are pointing to clusters of campaign signs amid construction along parts of Business 77, where they argue some candidates are violating the city’s ordinance and Texas Department of Transportation laws, placing their signs on TxDOT right-of-way while blocking the view of oncoming traffic.

“We already have a lot of construction on Business 77 and signs are creating a nuisance,” Galvan said Tuesday, adding a resident brought concerns to his attention. “This is not about any candidate. It’s about public safety.”

By the intersection of Business 77 and Sam Houston Boulevard, a “wall” of signs is posing a safety hazard, Guerra said.

“It blocks the view of oncoming traffic,” he said. “We all need to be mindful and careful of where we place them for the safety of the people. I know some signs were up before construction. Now, be a lot more mindful. If we are not mindful of the safety of the people, then what the heck are we doing (in public office)? Our priority ought to be the safety of the people.”

Guerra, who’s running for a second term in the May 6 election, said he’s not placing his signs along the construction stretch.

“In certain areas, I don’t have signs,” he said. “I feel there are too many signs. I feel it’s dangerous and hazardous for the people.”

Taking the podium

During a March 7 meeting, Galvan took the podium during a public comment period, speaking, he said, as a citizen to address concerns stemming from candidates placing signs on TxDOT right-of-way.

“This is a message to all candidates at the city and the school district,” he told commissioners. “TxDOT right-of-way is everything (from) the utility line to the street so you can’t be under the utility line. You have to be behind it.”

Galvan called on officials to enforce the ordinance, warning construction heightens safety hazards.

“Whether we want to enforce those issues is up to you all,” he told commissioners. “We’re down to one lane, and if you’re blocking the visibility of one lane, you need to stop thinking about advertising your sign and start thinking about public safety. We talk about liability. That’s just an accident waiting to happen. There are already accidents happening just with the construction that’s going on.”

Campaign signs are posted along North Sam Houston Boulevard Tuesday, March 14, 2023, in San Benito. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

Meanwhile, Guerra said some candidates are using their signs to block the view of opponents’ signs.

“You have to consider who places their signs first and then you’ve got others who put their signs in front, blocking the other candidate,” he said. “That shows you the character of the candidate. Be mindful — be courteous. We need to respect other people’s signs.”

Questioning enforcement

Like Guerra, Galvan said the city hasn’t been enforcing its ordinance while he questioned whether TxDOT was enforcing its regulations.

“It’s a responsibility of the city and TxDOT to enforce” the regulations, Galvan said.

TxDOT regulations prohibit candidates from placing their signs on state right-of-ways.

“Putting campaign signs on public lands is illegal,” the agency states on its website. “You need to know it is illegal to place any signs on or within the right-of-way. This includes posting signs on trees, telephone poles, traffic signs and other objects on the right-of-way. Campaign signs along Texas roads can be placed on private property with the owner’s permission. Before placing a sign inside of incorporated city limits, check with the city for applicable ordinances.

If you’ve placed your sign in the right-of-way or it’s posing a traffic hazard, we will remove it without prior notice. All costs associated with sign removal will be paid by the sign owner.”

Despite concerns, Ray Pedraza, TxDOT’s spokesman in Pharr, stated the agency was inspecting San Benito candidates’ signs along Business 77 on Tuesday.

A campaign sign is posted in front of a utility pole along US Hwy 77 Tuesday, March 14, 2023, in San Benito. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

“We have not received any complaints to our TxDOT San Benito area office regarding this particular location, but we will look into this today,” he stated. “If someone believes a sign or signs create a safety hazard, they can also contact local law enforcement as they can have the owner remove or relocate their sign(s).”

City ordinance

In San Benito, an ordinance prohibits signs from blocking the view of traffic while regulating the placards’ sizes.

“All political signs should be spaced to avoid dangerous visual clutter caused by a proliferation of signs,” the ordinance states.

The ordinance also requires candidates obtain permits to put up signs bigger than 32 square feet.

Meanwhile, the ordinance limits the placement of signs to 60 days before an election while requiring their removal 10 days afterward.

At the San Benito Police Department, Chief Mario Perea said his office hasn’t received complaints.