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Melania, Cohen and Ethan Gamboni of Carlsbad gathered for the "Keep Families Together" demonstration at Cannon Park in Carlsbad last summer. The city responded to a series of demonstrations with a proposed "expressive activities" ordinance. File photo
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Residents, speech advocates push back on city ordinance

CARLSBAD — Tensions ran high as residents and city officials discussed the city’s proposal for a standalone “expressive activities” ordinance during a Jan. 30 public forum.

Residents and members of the North County Civil Liberties Coalition levied several concerns with the draft proposal, which is to ensure First Amendment freedoms within the city.

The City Council approved in August 2018 to fast track the crafting of the ordinance after the June 30 “Families Belong Together” march at Cannon Park.

The city also has a survey on its website for residents to participate in and comment on until Feb. 11.

Carlsbad City Attorney Celia Brewer speaks with residents after the Jan. 30 public forum regarding the city’s proposed expressive activities ordinance. Photo by Steve Puterski

The proposal would require a trigger point of 75 or more people to obtain a permit and insurance (up to 1,500 people depending on the size), although no group would be responsible for park fees, reimbursing the city for police and fire costs or losses the city may experience from an activity.

“Every city is different,” Carlsbad City Attorney Celia Brewer said. “We are trying to balance the interests.”

Robin Mastro led the organization efforts on June 30 and detailed how the city left threatening signs near and around the park citing legal consequences, even jail time, for those who participated because the group did not have a special-use permit.

A special-use permit application must be submitted 90 days before an event, but in this case, because of actions taken by the Trump administration regarding illegal immigration and separating families, protesters had less time to act.

Nearly 1,000 from all over San Diego County attended.

“I am concerned about how many times I’ve heard you want to regulate free speech,” resident Sally Hunt said.

During the meeting residents kept referring to a letter sent to the city from the ACLU (San Diego) outlining several concerns.

Those include not allowing entertainment or fundraisers for a cause, spontaneous actions, being held responsible for actions of others including counter-protesters, offering reasons for permit denials and creating financial obstacles for those who cannot afford the insurance premium.

But Brewer said she or the other city officials would not address that letter or its concerns, setting off an intense back and forth. She later apologized and met with several residents and First Amendment advocates to listen to their concerns.

In addition, those speaking against the proposal said there was no actual workshop so each side can knock out the issues relating to the ordinance before it is presented to the City Council.

The North County Civil Liberties Coalition challenged the ability of the city and police department to be able to respond quickly to a spontaneous event.

They noted how the city of San Diego has none of the proposed measures in place along with officers being spread out over a larger coverage area when responding.

Carlsbad Police Chief Neil Gallucci said it was a matter of logistics to keep residents safe. He said if a spontaneous protest or march breaks out without prior notice, it’s difficult to gauge the level of intensity and what physical direction the action is moving toward, among other aspects.

“The goal for us is to have notice is for public safety and to protect you,” Gallucci said. “We want to do it in a safe manner.”

Ellen Montanari of North County Civil Liberties Coalition and others said those concerns hold back spontaneous actions.

“At the end, there was some progress,” she said. “We were hoping for some dialogue, but there wasn’t one. They spoke at us and then we spoke at them. The good news is at the end, the city attorney came up to us and we had that dialogue.”