Contentious item pulled from agenda at last week’s Santa Monica City Council agenda
By Sam Catanzaro
A contentious law that would have placed restrictions on certain forms of protesting in Santa Monica has been withdrawn.
On December 15, 2020, Santa Monica City Councilmembers Phil Brock and Christine Parra directed staff to propose an amendment to the city code to “reduce prolonged noise from protest activities in residential neighborhoods while still upholding First Amendment rights.” The move was in part a response to a series of recurring protests in December targeted at the Santa Monica residence of County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl who was spotted eating at a restaurant hours after voting to ban outdoor dining.
“These protests, which went on for several weeks, involved nightly, hours-long uses of amplified sound in a residential neighborhood that appeared intended to and did unreasonably harass and disturb the privacy and tranquility of residents” reads a March 5 city report on the topic.
Similar protests have also been held at the Santa Monica home of Assemblymember Richard Bloom.
At the December 15 meeting, Councilmember Brock said limiting excessive noise during evening hours at targeted protests could be done while also protecting First Amendment rights.
“What we are really trying to do is have an enhanced noise ordinance in the [residential] zones that allow families to have peace and quiet in their neighborhood. I want to make it very clear. I have absolutely nothing against protests and people should march, people should have placards and people who want to use their voices to express themselves on a street corner or in front of a house, they should be allowed to,” Brock said. “It’s about first amendment rights but it is also about the rights of people who live in a neighborhood.”
At the December 15 City Council meeting, all seven members voted to direct staff draft a proposal. Many Councilmembers, however, expressed concern about infringing on First Amendment rights by enacting such legislation.
“I am deeply deeply concerned about infringing on first amendment rights,” said Mayor Pro Tem Kristen McCowan. “We have to be careful.”
On March 5 Interim City Attorney George Cardona returned with a proposed ordinance that Brock said went beyond the scope of what he had intended and therefore requested the item be pulled from the agenda at the March 9 Council meeting.
“I’m astounded, frankly, that a small adjustment to the residential noise ordinance that I requested in December along with Councilmember Parra as a result of requests from Sunset Park residents, who could not have peace and tranquility in their purely residential neighborhood, morphed into an overarching anti-protest ordinance revision that affects the entire city,” Brock said during the meeting. “I resent that my specific, targeted method of helping our families in their homes at night became a ploy to change the rules of noise protests and the implements that protesters might utilize in the whole city.”
Cardona’s proposal would have prohibited using sound-amplifying equipment on a public sidewalk, street, alley or parkway located in a residential district after 10 p.m. and before 7 a.m. on weekdays or 8 a.m. on weekends. In addition, between the hours of 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., people could only operate sound-amplifying equipment on a public sidewalk, street, alley, or parkway in a residential district if they are stationary– staying in a fixed location for 5 minutes or more–which would “enable decibel levels to be more easily monitored as part of a determination whether the person’s conduct was in violation of city code.” Thirdly, the changes would have imposed additional restrictions on those who use sound-amplifying equipment at night within 500 feet of the same location multiple times in a 7-day period.
The ordinance also called for a prohibition on carrying certain items at community events, public assemblies and targeted residential protests. In 2008, City Council adopted an ordinance that prohibits carrying certain wooden objects during a protest or public assembly. Cardona proposed expanding the list of items prohibited at public assemblies, community events and targeted residential protests. The expanded list included items such as poles, sticks, wood and metal pipes, projectiles like rocks and pieces of concrete, glass bottles, aerosol sprays, shields, baseball or softball bats and laser pointers.
Since the item has now been pulled from last week’s agenda (as opposed to being voted down), Cardona says Council can not give staff any specific direction about changes to the legislation.
The attention surrounding the proposal comes as police departments across the country brace for potential unrest as the trial against Derek Chauvin, the police officer charged with killing George Floyd, began in Minneapolis this week.
On May 31, 2020 in Santa Monica rioters, taking advantage of a peaceful protest against the killing of Floyd, looted hundreds of Santa Monica businesses. The Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) was criticized for its response to the event, at one point firing tear gas and rubber bullets on a crowd of protestors while just blocks away looters tore through downtown Santa Monica.
Last week, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) West Los Angeles Area Captain Jonathan Tom notified residents and business owners the department is preparing for different reactions to the trial. According to Tom, the West Los Angeles division does not have any specific intelligence regarding potential unrest in the area, but has pre-identified locations that are likely to be targets of looting, vandalism and protests.
“If it becomes necessary, we will pre-deploy officers to those locations,” Tom wrote.
Tom said in a phone call that the Westside locations are Westfield Century City, Westwood Village, Palisades Village and Wilshire Boulevard and Santa Monica Boulevard corridors.
SMPD Sgt. Rudy Flores told the Mirror in an email that the the Santa Monica police do “NOT have any specific intelligence suggesting any type of unrest in SM however we will have a plan in place similar to what we did during inauguration week and after the events that occurred at our nation’s Capital. Community safety in SM is definitely our priority, so we definitely will have a comprehensive response plan.”