LAGUNA BEACH — Protesters will be cited for a misdemeanor if police find them in possession of such items as metal pipes, metal beverage containers, containers with bio-hazards, lumber, bricks, rocks, pepper spray or ice picks at a rally or political assembly at a city park or beach, officials say.
The City Council approved the emergency ordinance — a first for Orange County — on Tuesday, Sept. 12. The unanimous vote was in response to an Aug. 20 America First! rally at Main Beach that drew more than 2,300 people.
Police said they determined that some protesters were carrying daggers, pepper spray and chains — all items that could be used as a weapon to incite violence. Four people were arrested following the rally.
“We had people with flags on poles,” Laguna Beach police Chief Laura Farinella told the council. “At the end of the stick, they had sharp spear-like objects covered by cork. When they felt threatened they could take that off.”
“You can voice your First Amendment right but you don’t need to arm yourself with something to do it,” she said.
The council agreed that the ordinance should go into effect immediately.
City officials said they want to step up protection for the community and law enforcement in anticipation of more protests and rallies and the violence that could come from them.
“What you showed people the first time around, this backs it up,” said Mayor Pro Tem Kelly Boyd. “When you see what happened in Berkeley and the way they stood down and what you did here by having everyone available, including the Sheriff’s mounted unit, it let people know we’re not going to put up with their crap. I appreciate that and this. It just backs up that we’re going to let people know what we’re going to do.”
Protest groups who plan to come to Laguna will be informed of the new law, Farinella said. And, while the new ordinance is directed at events planned at city parks and beaches, it will also apply to rally attendees walking to or from their cars.
“When we looked across the country at things that were used, we found they were regular household items,” she said. “We were specific because they were specifically seen used across the nation against law enforcement.”
Ed Steinfeld, a Laguna Beach resident who said he was among the counter protesters on Aug. 20, said he wanted the city to take it a step further.
“We’re treating a symptom instead of the disease,” he said. “How about an ordinance against hate groups so that ordinary citizens don’t have to defend ourselves and our town against white supremacists that come here.”
Dave Oakley, also a resident, said he had planned to counter protest a fifth America First! rally planned for Sept. 24 at Main Beach before it was canceled. Now, he said, he was worried the council was creating an emergency ordinance when there was no emergency.
“Since America First has canceled their rally, we’ve canceled our counterprotest,” he said. “We should revisit this and make sure we’re not going down a slippery slope into a police state.”
Councilman Rob Zur Schmiede commended the new law.
“I’m supporting this,” he said. “This ordinance defends people exercising their free speech because it prevents them from bringing these things to protest.”
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