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Protest Villa Serena Apartments
A sign for a protest on February 6 at Villa Serena Apartment in San Marcos. The San Marcos City Council passed an ordinance limiting picketing and protesting in front of private residences. Photo by Joe Orellana
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San Marcos council passes controversial protest ordinance

SAN MARCOS — The San Marcos City Council met on Tuesday, May 11, and passed by a 4-1 vote a controversial ordinance that will limit picketing and protesting in front of private residences and create a 300-foot buffer zone.

According to the staff report, the ordinance allows individuals to still protest in general residential areas or neighborhoods but prohibits protesters from targeting a specific residential unit and coming within 300 feet of that unit.

Violations of the ordinance would be categorized as an infraction and would result in a fine.

“The City Council finds and determines that the preservation and protection of the right to privacy in a residential dwelling unit and the enjoyment of tranquility, well-being, and sense of security in a residential dwelling unit are in the public interest and are uniquely and critically important to the public health, safety, and welfare,” the staff report said.

Councilwoman Maria Nunez was the single no vote on the issue, with Councilmembers Randy Walton, Sharon Jenkins and Ed Musgrove and Mayor Rebecca Jones all voting yes on the ordinance.

The council received dozens of public comments, with the majority of comments urging council members not to approve the ordinance.

“The proposed ordinance would criminalize individuals for exercising their First Amendment rights. Part of a healthy inclusive democracy is the expression of dissent and the ability to convey that to elected officials through peaceful protest, which includes picketing in residential areas,” said Erin Tsurumoto Grassi, regional policy director for Alliance San Diego, in a public comment. “If we truly value democracy we should be constantly looking for ways we can expand participation in the civic process rather than looking for ways to limit it.”

Nunez, who opposed the motion, said that she feels the ordinance was created once it started affecting “decision-makers and people of power, such as elected officials.”

Back in February, when the San Diego Tenants Union was leading several protests on behalf of low-income tenants who were being evicted from the Villa Serena Apartments, the union posted on social media about protesting in front of the mayor’s house.

Jones told The Coast News that the ordinance has nothing to with that specific incident.

“It’s actually not targeted at any segment of the population. … It has nothing to do with me personally or anything about that,” Jones said. “It has to do with making sure that we have the preservation of folks feeling like they can have their voices heard and also preserving a safe space for people in their homes to feel like they are able to safely live their lives.”

She added that the ordinance is not intended to discourage protesting and does not infringe on anyone’s right to free speech. It also does not affect protesting in any public spaces.

Jones also pointed out that the City of San Diego has a similar ordinance in place.