CARLSBAD — About 18 months after a large-scale protest took place at Cannon Park, the City Council is finally moving forward with its expressive activities policy.
The council voted 3-1, with Mayor Matt Hall against, during its Nov. 19 meeting to introduce the policy as an ordinance, which will return to the council for adoption in December. The policy came from the ad hoc committee consisting of council members Keith Blackburn and Cori Schumacher.
The council, along with residents and the North County Civil Liberties Coalition, have been debating, arguing and discussing the issue since August 2018, almost two months after nearly 1,000 people gathered for the “Families Belong Together” rally on June 30, 2018.
The protest spawned concerns of overreach and threats from the city and its police department, while the city contended it wanted to make sure the rally was going through proper procedures to ensure public safety.
Yusef Miller and Cindy Millican, both of NCCLC, said one goal was to separate expressive activities and special events, which was an underlying problem. Miller, along with Blackburn, said special events are more for athletic events and other large gatherings, not those exercising their constitutional rights.
Overall, though, Miller and Millican said they were pleased with the council’s direction to move forward.
“We had conservative and liberal views on it,” Miller said. “But we worked it out to get a constitutionally sound product that we can all be happy with. That’s the bottom line for us. We want a product that was constitutionally sound bar none. Anything flowery on the side, then we can talk about. We believe we achieved that.”
The new policy has three key changes, which includes the removal of requiring insurance, traffic control plans and a statement of acknowledgement to property damage. Additionally, it would limit the city’s permit application review period to no more than three calendar days.
Spontaneous demonstrations, those reacting to a news or political item, would be exempt from the permit process, as would expressive activities on a sidewalk (no limit) and public park (75 or fewer people).
“I think we found a happy compromise,” Blackburn said. “It wasn’t as extreme as I would like … as my focus was on public safety.”
Blackburn and Schumacher, who came from different viewpoints regarding the issue, both said they believe the committee’s recommendation struck a fair balance regarding the issue.
Blackburn, a former Carlsbad police officer, said he came from a more conservative political viewpoint and was concerned for public safety and requiring as much time as possible for law enforcement to prepare. However, he said the current ordinance is “completely unreasonable,” as it requires any expressive activities event to apply for a permit at least 90 days before the event, along with purchasing insurance and other points of concern.
Schumacher, meanwhile, said the main issue was changing the definition of spontaneous demonstrations to ensure any resident could exercise their rights.
“It’s been an interesting journey, but one that was very fruitful,” she added.
Carlsbad Deputy City Attorney Cindie McMahon said the new policy is following established case law and precedent established by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. When asked if spontaneous demonstrations must or could require notice, McMahon said the court does not favor any limitations or require notification.
Currently, expressive activities on city property are covered under the city’s special events ordinance requiring groups of more than 50 people to obtain a special events permit. A permit would be required for expressive activities using city property, such as public parks, beaches, streets and sidewalks if the participants do not follow traffic laws.
Groups would need to submit an application for a permit at least three business days before the planned activity.