The City Council on Tuesday this week spent most of its time talking trash. No, I mean trash, as in who will pick up the trash from your house.
Speaker after speaker after speaker talked trash, but what happened at the council meeting before that was probably more important to us as individuals as the City Council encroached on our freedoms, just a little bit more, when they passed the Anti-Targeted Residential Picketing Ordinance.
What is Targeted Residential Picketing? Say, for example, there is a registered sex offender in your neighborhood, and you decide you would rather not have him living in your neighborhood, where your kids play. You can’t just kick him out. But you can let your neighbors know that he lives there by standing outside his house, on the public sidewalk, with signs stating that a registered sex offender lives here.
First Amendment Restricts Government
When you are carrying your sign and assembling with your neighbors, you are practicing your first amendment rights. The first amendment states that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble…”
The language seems clear. You are peaceably assembling on a public sidewalk with signs stating your opinion, free speech, so why is the City making a law that abridges our free speech and prohibits our peaceable assembly?
The City Council Disses the First Amendment
The new ordinance states:
“WHEREAS, the City Council finds and declares that picketing at or near the borders of a private residence and directed at the inhabitants of the residential dwelling unit is a disfavored activity that is not entitled to a high level of First Amendment protection, according to decisions by State and Federal courts.”
So who does the City Council think they are that they can decide which speech deserves what level of First Amendment protection?
The City Council Gets Out Their Tape Measure
The city decided that 300 feet is a good distance based on what other cities have decided and courts upheld. So what that means is that instead of standing on the public sidewalk outside the sex offenders house, using my previous example, you and all your neighbors would have to stand 300 feet away. So instead of sending the message to the sex offender, you will be sending the message to the neighbors that happen to live 300 feet away in various directions.
make no law…abridging the freedom of speech
So what our City Fathers are saying is: if you are peaceably assembling, on public property, saying certain things about a certain person in a certain place, then you have to stand 300 feet away from that certain person’s property lines. I get it! I think I get it? I am confused…..isn’t this called “abridging” our freedom of speech?
I wonder what those neighbors 300 feet away will think when 20 people are standing in front of their homes with signs that say No more Sex Offenders in Our Neighborhood? I wonder what THEIR neighbors will think.
Maybe we need to stand in front of the City Council’s homes and talk trash?
Scott Peotter is an Architect and former Planning Commissioner in Newport Beach. Scott can be reached at [email protected]