Santa Monica City Council will discuss new regulations regarding public assemblies, targeted residential protests, and noise on Tuesday in an effort to promote public safety and welfare, but some local residents believe the proposed amendments should be unanimously rejected by city leaders.
Along with the protests that were seen across the country this summer in relation to the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and a number of other Black Americans, a series of recurring protests also resulted at the Santa Monica residence of County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl in Fall 2020, a staff report for Tuesday’s City Council meeting states. “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.”
In response, staff is now proposing an ordinance that would implement “content-neutral time, place, and manner restrictions” in a package of amendments, the staff report states. Each seeks to balance the First Amendment rights of those who wish to engage in expressive activity through public events and assemblies, while also upholding two other significant City interests; which include safeguarding City residents, business owners, police, and protesters from violence; and protecting residential privacy and tranquility.
“I have absolutely nothing against protests. And people should march; people should have placards and if people want to use their voices to express themselves on a street corner or in front of a house, they should be allowed to. But, as we’ve seen, both, at a protest in front of Assemblymember Bloom’s house and Supervisor Kuehl’s house, it can sometimes go too far,” said Councilmember Phil Brock, who originally asked for the item to be placed on the agenda back in December.
During the same discussion, Councilmember Kevin McKeown said the actions highlighted by Brock constitute “hooliganism” that’s already illegal. Like other councilmembers, he also shared a reluctance to pass an ordinance that could potentially stifle free speech and violate first amendment rights.
Even so, Council supported staff returning with more information on the matter as well as any suggested actions that would reduce prolonged noise during protest activities in residential neighborhoods while still upholding First Amendment rights.
“What has come back for us tomorrow night reveals that our existing law already covered the issues of concern, although enforcement decisions may sometimes be difficult,” McKeown said Monday while he detailed the strong public opposition that he has received since the public became aware of the upcoming discussion.
“The emails to the Council so far, as of noon Monday,” McKeown said, “are about 20 to one against our adopting the proposed amendments to local law.”