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Tensions ramped up in Gearhart over vacation rental vote

Accusations of sign stealing
By R.J. Marx

The Daily Astorian

Published on October 9, 2017 7:48AM

Last changed on October 9, 2017 3:42PM

Campaign signs vanished from homes along Cottage and Marion avenues in Gearhart this weekend.

Submitted Photo

Campaign signs vanished from homes along Cottage and Marion avenues in Gearhart this weekend.

GEARHART — When she went to bed at midnight, Betty Smith said a campaign sign on her lawn opposing the repeal of a vacation rental ordinance was in place. By Saturday morning, it was gone, along with about 15 other signs from homes on Cottage and Marion avenues.

The signs advocated a “no” vote to Measure 4-188, which asks for a repeal and replacement of Gearhart’s short-term rental ordinance.

The missing signs were first reported Saturday afternoon, Police Chief Jeff Bowman said.

“It’s theft of property, no matter how you want to slice it,” said Smith, a former advertising director for The Daily Astorian, who lives on Cottage Avenue. “This was on our private property. … These signs cost money.”

She said the thefts took place “probably between midnight and 6 a.m.”

“It’s not the first time,” Smith said. “When you lose 10 in one night, there’s clearly something going on.”

“We had the owner’s permission for every location,” Cottage Avenue resident Jeanne Mark said. “We were painstaking about that.”

Along with seeking return of the signs, Mark, Smith and others said they also plan to file reports with Gearhart Police.

“These signs cost money and theft is a serious charge,” Mayor Matt Brown said.

Sign stealing is a familiar accusation in political campaigns — from the presidential election down to the City Council — and culprits are rarely caught.

Bowman said residents may not have much recourse. The city does not take crime reports on stolen or vandalized campaign signs.

“That’s just the way it is throughout the county,” Bowman said. “During the Clinton and Trump election there were all kinds of signs taken. Do you know how I handle it? I tell them, ‘Sorry, you got your political signs stolen, just go get another sign and put it up.’”

Retribution feared

While Gearhart has been dotted with signs opposed to the ballot measure, signs in support are absent.

“We’re not putting up signs,” measure advocate David Townsend said last week.

Some proponents of the measure fear the heightened political tensions surrounding the short-term rental regulation debate may incite anger or retribution.

“I walked down the Ridge Path and saw signs that said ‘Save Gearhart, vote no,’” resident Shannon Smith said at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

“There are business folks in town who have spoken up in favor of this and they have been retaliated against — the big ‘R’ word — or they’ve been called names like ‘selfish and greedy,’” she said. “I don’t think anyone who wants their rights is selfish. We have to find a way to talk about it and make our community come together again.”

North Marion Avenue resident Pat Wollner, who hosted an election gathering Friday night, said she was among those whose campaign sign vanished.

“I’m reluctant to point my fingers directly at the opposition as I have absolutely no evidence,” Wollner said. “Certainly other people might have a different take on it. What it does tell me is that somebody — prankster or opponent — is more interested in dissension than due process. I don’t want to be a part of that.”

“We all know this is a contentious issue in Gearhart,” Brown said. “I hope whether you are planning to vote ‘yes’ or vote ‘no’ that we all respect the other side’s right to have an opinion and show their support.”


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