CARLSBAD — Special events and expressive gatherings will soon have separate designations in the city code.
On Aug. 28, the Carlsbad City Council unanimously approved to direct staff to rewrite the city’s code to separate expressive events from special events.
In addition, a council subcommittee will work with staff to attempt to have a resolution crafted before the November election as Councilmen Michael Schumacher and Mark Packard will not be on the council weeks after the election, thus pushing back the timeline to incorporate a new subcommittee.
While the issue is a priority, Mayor Matt Hall said it is too important to rush through, thus asked and received support to ensure time was not an obstacle.
“You have to understand our side of it and us being willing and doing what you need us to do to provide a safe environment,” Hall said, “We are all here to work together as a community for everyone’s safety. It’s one thing if 50 people are coming. It’s another if 500 or 1,000 people are coming.”
The direction (it was not an action item on the agenda) was spurred after the June 30 “Families Belong Together” rally held at Cannon Park. About 1,000 people from all over North County gathered to protest President Donald Trump’s immigration policy of separating families at the border, mass detention and deportations.
The problem, though, was organizers did not have a special events permit, which requires an application to be filed 90 days before an event for a gathering of more than 50 people. The group lost its organizer about a week before the rally leaving Robin Mastro and Cindy Millican to coordinate with the city.
The city, meanwhile, told the organizers and posted signs the day of the rally warning attendees fines and even possible jail time could be levied if violence broke out. Mastro said she felt threatened by the city leading to mass confusion the day of the event.
“It totally confused me,” Mastro said. “This was misplaced apprehension and fear.”
During the meeting, however, dozens of residents and civil liberties activists spoke about the importance of the First Amendment and free speech, especially now as opponents of Trump and his policies routinely assemble to protest specific decisions.
“I think the confusion came about, people saw that and, it was very legal language, and thought that we were shutting down the protest or we weren’t allowing the protest,” Carlsbad’s Communications Manager Kristina Ray said in a previous interview. “That was never the case. All along throughout the week we ensured the organizers that we would do everything we could to work with them and have traffic control and police officers so they could have a peaceful event without any incident.”
Activist Yousef Miller of the North County Civil Liberties Coalition said it is critical the city and residents work together to craft a fair policy and to streamline the process. Miller and others from the coalition will meet with the City Council to discuss updating the ordinance.
“We stood on the sidewalks and held signs for passersby to be aware of what was going on,” he said. “We organized this protest with Carlsbad on our minds. We were met at the beginning with harassment, threats and intimidation. Maybe this was miscommunication. Today, we are not opponents.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego challenged the city’s permit requirements questioning the necessity of a permit, the 90-day advanced notice, spontaneous events, fees and cost and indemnification and insurance.
And while updating the code, which was passed in 2006, is a high priority, Hall said the reason for some of the restrictions was to ensure police and staff were not overwhelmed by the number of potential protestors. He said safety for all residents and demonstrators, is the No. 1 priority.
Even though the June 30 rally was peaceful, Hall said not all people participate in such events with a peaceful approach, thus the necessity to ensure safety.
Councilwoman Cori Schumacher said there is a real desire for spaces for residents to come together. She said the current-day demonstrators on this issue come out with love, but railed a “very small minority” such as Antifa and “folks with Tiki torches” are making things difficult.
“What we do here is quite different and if we are legislating to the worst of humanity, we are going to get the worst types of legislation,” Schumacher added. “Meaning, we’re going to see policy that continues to chip away at our Constitutional right, and it’s happening here in Carlsbad. We have the license plate readers, the anti-mask ordinance and we have this issue we’re shuffling around.”
Steve Puterski covers Carlsbad and Vista. For tips or story ideas, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @StevePuterski.