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Carlsbad Council To Reconsider Rules Governing Public Protests

Carlsbad City Hall, Aug. 25, 2015.

Photo by Alison St John

Above: Carlsbad City Hall, Aug. 25, 2015.

Carlsbad city leaders will consider changing the municipal code’s rules on public protests, after complaints from a group protesting family separations at the border.

When organizers of a June 30 demonstration showed up to Cannon Park in Carlsbad last month, they were met with signs warning them that they would be fined and prosecuted if the demonstration went ahead, because it did not have a permit.

The organizers tried to cancel the protest but the demonstration went ahead anyway. The protest unfolded peacefully with several hundred people calling for federal immigration policies to change.

During public comment at this week's Carlsbad City Council meeting, one of the protest organizers, Carlsbad resident Adrienne Durso, told the council city codes violate fundamental free speech rights

"I believe the survival of our democracy are dependent on them now more than ever," Durso told the council. "But somehow it was OK at some point for the city to pass municipal code 8:17:200, going against our First Amendment rights. As a Carlsbad citizen, I am appalled that such a municipal code exists."

The code referred to on the signs, CMC 8:17:200, specifies hefty fines and other possible penalties as punishment for going ahead with a demonstration without a permit.

Other municipal codes specify permits for special events need to be applied for 90 days in advance. Resident Noel Green said that news is breaking so rapidly now that such timelines are unrealistic.

According to guidelines provided by the American Civil Liberties Union, a permit can be obtained on short notice or not required at all if inspired by unforeseeable or recent events.

Following the June 30 demonstration, city staff put out a tweet saying it was committed to respecting peoples’ right to protest. City spokeswoman Kristina Ray said the signs were put up because the city attorney’s office had advised that it was necessary to notice people they were attending an unpermitted event. This would allow police to step in to enforce the law if things had gotten out of hand, she said.

However, Ray said, city staff in the future will stress that the city is committed to preserving residents’ right to free speech.

Some local residents were not happy with the protest in their neighborhood park. During this week's council meeting, Dean Szabo said the demonstration made him feel uncomfortable.

"If I had my grandkids in that park on the day of that event," he said, "I would have been very upset."

The City Council voted unanimously to put the issue on the agenda for discussion. But the city has not yet picked a date, and Ray said it may not be until after summer recess. The city attorney is in the process of updating all the city’s municipal codes and may decide to tackle the codes regulating special events earlier than planned, Ray said.

Carlsbad city leaders will consider changing the municipal code’s rules on public protests, after complaints from a group protesting family separations at the border.


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