We are a group of concerned Santa Monica residents and write to express our views concerning the scope, intent and timing of the Urgency Ordinance presented to Council by City Staff on March 9, 2021 as agenda item 7.D. We wish to bring these issues to your immediate attention so the Council can discuss the issues and take appropriate action.

Scope: The proposed ordinance seeks to address a specific need: to limit obnoxious noise at late hours in a residential neighborhood, by appending broad limitations on peaceful civil protests as protected under the US Constitution and valued by our traditionally tolerant community. In its overreaching and expansive approach, it will limit free expression of the rights of speech and assembly, grant broad new powers to police, criminalize rather than encourage peaceful public protest, and potentially put legal protesters at undue physical risk.

We are concerned that City personnel, in pressing for changes in the protest ordinance, have failed to address several issues of public safety that are important to Santa Monica residents. These include: how peaceful protesters will be protected in future protests, changes in policing tactics necessary to ensure public safety and de-escalate risks, and revisions in policies governing how peaceful protesters are to be treated.

The proposed ordinance seeks to ban certain conduct that is likely already unlawful (assaulting police with makeshift weapons, for example) while ignoring the tactical and safety problems reflected in how the police handled past protests. The draft proposal was silent on changes that should be made to protect Santa Monica residents and peaceful protesters from the actions of inadequately trained officers and dangerous unsafe police responses to peaceful protests.

Intent: The proposed “Urgent” ordinance seems driven by a fear of protests that may emerge from the pending trial of the police officer who killed George Floyd, rather than a reasoned, open, and fully analytical approach to improving public safety. The recording of that incident set off a wave of protests around the country almost a year ago. The staff report seems to suggest they are anticipating additional protests in Santa Monica, but is then blind to the issues that must be addressed to adequately respond to any such protests.

The recitals to the draft ordinance conflate peaceful protesters with criminal behavior and bad actors. It suggests that some individuals have used protests as cover to engage in violence, arson and looting, and that the ordinance is needed to respond to that threat. But it has been widely reported that the looting that occurred in Santa Monica last May 31 was the result of a systematic criminal enterprise, whether or not the result of people using the cover of the peaceful protests in Santa Monica to loot.

The recitals further suggest there is a concern about violence at public events between groups with opposing views. The proposal references Portland, Charlottesville, Berkeley and other cities, presumably as examples of why staff is proposing the specific ordinance. Next the recitals assert that protests in Long Beach, Beverly Hills and Santa Monica in May 2020 “erupted in violence” but does not discuss or reference any of the reasons why, or the police role in potentially escalating any such violence.

Timing: The timing of the introduction of the proposed ordinance also ignores and could subvert two upcoming milestones authorized by the City Council itself. The OIR after action report concerning the handling of the May 31, 2020 protests is scheduled to be released to the Council on or around May 1, 2021. This long-awaited report will help dictate future adjustments to police tactics and strategies in dealing with local protests (as well as other public safety matters). To consider the current ordinance prior to the report’s findings strikes us as premature and shortsighted.

In addition, the Council is due to announce the members of its new Public Safety Reform and Oversight Commission in April 2021. As constituted, this Commission’s remit includes examining and making recommendations on changes to public safety, including any findings in the after action report. Considering the current protest ordinance prior to the formation of the Commission and the release of the OIR report, pre-empts a Commission role dictated by earlier Council action.

In order to ensure that future protests are conducted in a manner that ensures the safety of police officers, peaceful protesters, and Santa Monica residents, the City Council and the Public Safety Reform and Oversight Commission should engage in a more detailed reflection on the nature of the problems and the solutions that are needed and engage the public fully in discussion.

At a minimum, the following questions should be considered.

How can police use de-escalation tactics to help ensure that peaceful protests can be conducted safely within the City?

Should there be a ban on using tear gas for crowd control purposes? If tear gas is allowed, what are the circumstances that justify its use and what conditions must be present to protect innocent bystanders?

Should there be a ban on shooting rubber and plastic projectiles or using pepper spray against protesters?

How should the use of military style equipment be avoided due to its tendency to intimidate lawful protesters and escalate protests as a result of that intimidation?

How should training for crowd management and protest management be improved? Is it a perishable skill that requires ongoing training for SMPD officers and their supervisors?

How has the SMPD developed updated plans for handling systematic criminal behavior that may occur during peaceful protests?

How should new regulations for declaring and enforcing curfews be addressed in light of their application during the events around May 31, 2020?

As residents and stakeholders in the wellbeing of all of Santa Monica, we believe that the above issues should be addressed thoroughly and publicly by the City Council and the new Public Safety Reform and Oversight Commission.

We believe that banning conduct that is already unlawful is unlikely to stop those bent on violence from committing such acts. The SMPD should be required to develop tactical responses that will allow them to address and de-escalate potential criminal behavior while concurrently respecting the right of people to peacefully assemble and express their views.

Respectfully, George Brown Marc Morgenstern Michele Wittig Michael Shotton Angela Scott Robbie Jones Karen Wise Joanne Berlin Walter J. Thompson Julie Alley Audrey Lyness Gina Frazier Craig R. Miller Ted Winterer Barry Snell Nathaniel Trives Karen Gunn.

Santa Monica Coalition for Police Reform.

Santa Monica Black Lives Association.

Committee for Racial Justice Santa Monicans For Democracy.