City Council to take up emergency ordinance next week
By Sam Catanzaro
Santa Monica lawmakers will consider banning certain items from protests and public demonstrations.
On Tuesday April 13, Santa Monica City Council will take up an emergency ordinance proposed by Interim City Attorney George Cardona and Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks “relating to restrictions on carrying, using, or possessing certain specified items during community events or public assemblies to promote public safety and welfare.”
Under the proposed legislation, wooden sticks, metal and plastic pipes, baseball bats, aerosol sprays, weapons, glass bottles, shields, bricks and rocks would be prohibited at protests, public assemblies and community events. As an emergency ordinance, if the law passes with at least five votes, it will become effective immediately.
While not explicitly mentioned in the ordinance, 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, is underway in Minneapolis.
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.
In a report, city staff also cited concern over violent protests that have occurred over the past few years in Washington, D.C.; Charlottesville, Virginia; St. Louis, Missouri; Portland, Oregon, Berkeley, Laguna Beach, Long Beach, Los Angeles and Oakland.
“out of concern that the City could see occurrences of violence arising from otherwise peaceful protests similar to those experienced in the cities referenced above and here in Santa Monica in May 2020, the Santa Monica Police Department asks the City Council to adopt an ordinance revising SMMC Section 4.08.780 to implement a ban at community events and public assemblies on the carrying or possession of items that can readily be weaponized and serve no legitimate purpose at a peaceful protest, public assembly, or community event,” reads a staff report. “Adopting such an ordinance will further the goal of ensuring that community members may continue to exercise their constitutional rights to engage in expressive activities without fear of violence or injury.”
The ordinance also lays out alternative actions the Council can take, including leaving in place the current version of SMMC 4.08.780. The staff report, however, urges against this.
“This ordinance has been criticized as overbroad for potentially extending to sticks used to support large expressive signs or other expressive items,” reads the staff report. “It does not address at all a host of other items that can readily be weaponized and serve no legitimate purpose at a peaceful protest.”
The staff report also says Council could repeal current SMMC 4.08.780 or adopt an ordinance permitting the City Manager to implement temporary regulations prohibiting items on an ad hoc basis for particular events. In addition, Council could include a sunset date for the proposed emergency ordinance or modify particular provisions of the proposed emergency ordinance.
This will be the second time in the past month that Santa Monica City Council considers such legislation. 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.” On March 5 Interim City Attorney 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.
The pulled ordinance called for a prohibition on carrying certain items at community events, public assemblies and targeted residential protests, similar to the law Council will consider April 13. The law would have also prohibited using sound-amplifying equipment on a public sidewalk, street, alley or parkway at night.