The Santa Monica City Council has passed an ordinance requiring those participating in targeted residential protests to maintain a distance of 50 feet from the targeted home.
The ordinance will also limit the thickness of poles or sticks that may be used to carry placards “in order to minimize any potential injuries to someone, should that stick be chosen to be used as a weapon,” said Santa Monica Police Chief Tim Jackman. Those with disabilities who are carrying canes, walkers or similar devices necessary for providing mobility are protected in the ordinance.
Councilman Kevin McKeown was the sole councilmember to vote against the ordinance.
“I’d like the record to show that I voted no on behalf of the innocent residents who live 50 feet away and are the new victims of this inadequate solution,” McKeown said after his vote.
In the past few years, an increasing number of protests targeting specific homes have occurred in residential neighbor- hoods in Santa Monica — and elsewhere in the region.
These protests have had “very adverse impacts” on the targeted residents, the city says.
An ordinance establishing buffer zones in Santa Monica was created “to protect the well-being of residents in their homes and also respect the First Amendment right of demonstrators,” Jackman says.
Several other cities in Southern California have ordinances regulating the distance picketers must keep from the “target” when they protest, including Los Angeles, Glendale and San Diego.
“In my view, this ordinance is essential,” said Mayor Pro Tem Richard Bloom. “It’s not going to solve the problem, but it’s going to help a little bit. I think this is a major step forward.”
Bloom shared his experience of being in a home that was targeted by protestors several years ago.
“I can say that until you’ve experienced this, you really don’t know what it’s like to be the target [of a protest],” he said.
Councilman Ken Genser said that moving a protest 50 feet away from a targeted dwelling “dissipates the focused energy on a particular residence.”
He said that, with this ordinance, “no particular dwelling now has that implied threat.”
But some disagreed with the 50 feet distance requirement, including animal rights activist Pamelyn Ferdin, who spoke at the meeting. She noted that she was a “proud picketer” on public sidewalks in local protests at the home of Santa Monica resident and geneticist Nelson Freimer, who has experimented on vervet monkeys for a project to discover their genetic map.
Freimer’s lab focuses mainly on identifying the genetic basis of neurobehavioral traits such as bipolar disorder and Tourette Syndrome.
“We have the right to stand on a publicly-owned sidewalk and legally demonstrate in front of Nelson Freimer’s dwelling,” Ferdin said. “I can tell you that if you pass this proposed ordinance, the neighbors across the street from Nelson Freimer are going to be very upset, because [with the 50 feet buffer zone] we’re going to be standing and chanting in front of other people’s dwellings that have nothing to do with primate abuse.”
Ferdin also expressed her thoughts on how the Santa Monica Police Department has handled local protests she has participated in.
“It’s the most unconstitutional and fascist behavior I’ve ever witnessed of police officers and a city government against peaceful protestors,” she said. “The Santa Monica police have harassed, illegally detained, arrested and cited legal above-ground activists so often and with such disregard that a federal lawsuit has been filed against the Santa Monica Police Department and the City of Santa Monica for these civil rights violations.”
McKeown said he understood why the city was trying to pass this ordinance, but he thinks the particular solution is worse than the current problem and will have a greater impact on the residential neighborhoods that the city is trying to protect.
“The problem I have with this ordinance is that we live in an extraordinarily dense city — 11,000 people per square mile, and while protestors may have an issue with a particular resident, they probably don’t have an issue with the people that live 50 feet away, and yet, this ordinance victimizes those people who live 50 feet away,” McKeown said. “So this, I’m afraid, is a solution that is worse than the existing problem.
“The impact is now falling on the next property or the property across the street.”
Jackman wanted to make one thing clear.
“We are very supportive of people utilizing their First Amendment rights,” he said. “We are, in California, called peace officers. We enforce the peace. That’s what we’re here for. We allow people to protest legitimately all over the city, as is right.
“I want to make sure the people understand that we’re not here to interfere with anyone’s right to protest, but just [ask that] they do it in a way that’s respectful of other people’s rights as well.”
The City Council must now approve a second reading of the ordinance, which is standard procedure, at its next meeting, Tuesday, February 12th.