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Road Signs? Bolinas Voters Say 'Read Our Lips' Instead

November 09, 1989|MARK A. STEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — Attention, bureaucrats. Bolinas has made itself heard: It wants to make itself scarce.

In an overwhelming rejection of tourists, Caltrans and, perhaps, common sense, the 418 voters of the blissfully obscure Marin County village about 20 miles north of San Francisco voted nearly 3 to 1 Tuesday against allowing road signs directing travelers into town.

The ballot, a nonbinding advisory measure, is the most definitive gesture yet by Bolinas residents in their long struggle with state highway engineers who insist on posting signs showing the route into town from California 1.

Since the late 1960s, the town's rebels-with-a-cause have tried to remain rebels-without-a-cutoff by engaging the state's Department of Transportation in an epic--and comic--guerrilla war.

Their beef is that signs attract tourists who will attract developers who will attract city folks in search of weekend homes, ruining the town's laid-back life style. Business owners, who put the issue on the ballot, argue that the sign war draws far more attention to Bolinas than the signs themselves.

About 36 signs have been assiduously erected--and stolen--over the last 20 years. Caltrans now installs inexpensive handmade signs to discourage the trophy hunters who, it is whispered, have boldly recycled purloined placards into coffee tables and wall hangings.

Still, signs vanish as quickly as they are put up.

Caltrans once tried painting BOLINAS on the blacktop. Tar swiftly blacked out the letters.

Highway Patrol officers tried hiding in the brush to catch sign stealers. Cunning sign-nappers simply waited for the somewhat absurd stakeout to end.

Until Tuesday, however, such shenanigans were dismissed by state workers and even some town residents as the anomalous act of an outlaw minority, the pointless prank of a small band of over-aged James Deans.

That thesis was all but buried by Tuesday's election, in which 304 of 418 voters rejected Measure N, a plebiscite in favor of signs.

Not that the election would have changed very much in any case, said Greg Shelley, bartender at Smiley's Schooner Saloon.

"The vote count doesn't really matter," Shelley told the San Francisco Examiner. "The sign's going to be torn down anyway--it's an unwritten thing."

Caltrans declined to discuss the matter.

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