A group of about a dozen people gathered in front of the California Department of Transportation headquarters Friday to condemn the department for removing signs that criticized a plan to divert water from the Sacramento River.
Earlier this week, Caltrans maintenance workers removed several signs reading, "Save the Delta! Stop the Tunnels!" from private property adjacent to Highway 160.
The signs were produced by Restore the Delta, a group opposing Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to pipe water from the Sacramento River to consumers farther south.
"It's trespassing, it's confiscation and it's trampling the free speech rights of Delta residents," said Stephen Hopcraft, a consultant for Restore the Delta.
Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, the group's executive director, produced a cease-and-desist letter that was sent Thursday to Caltrans. She said Caltrans failed to explain its legal authority to remove the signs, and pointed to a report from the First Amendment Project in Oakland that concluded the state Outdoor Advertising Act didn't apply to the signs.
"Caltrans has changed the story repeatedly," Barrigan-Parrilla said. "Now they're saying it was just a misunderstanding. It's not a misunderstanding."
Speakers at the rally said the presence of signs supporting the diversion tunnels along other highways suggested Caltrans was selectively enforcing the law.
"Clearly, this is not a huge distraction," said Hopcraft, while holding a large yard sign like those Caltrans removed.
Matt Rocco, a spokesman for Caltrans, said the department was consistent. He wrote in an email that Caltrans workers had removed two other signs near the highway that advertised a bazaar.
"We remove things that are within our right-of-way across the state," he said.
Call The Bee's Jack Newsham, (916) 321-1100. Follow him in Twitter @TheNewsHam.