On July 12, a vigil, "Lights for Liberty", was held on the Manhattan Beach pier to draw attention to the overcrowded and unsanitary detention centers along the US/Mexico border.
There is no disputing the right of this group to peacefully assemble on the pier or anywhere publicly so long as the appropriate permits are obtained. However, two of Manhattan Beach's five council members - Mayor Nancy Hersman and newly-elected councilperson Hildy Stern - decided to use their influence and grease the skids to make sure the group organizing the vigil would not have to pay a $2,164 permit fee to the City (although a $227 sound permit was, in fact, applied for and paid).
Below is our letter to council concerning this clearly partisan issue.
Dear Council members:
I am a 28-year homeowner here in Manhattan Beach. Prior to last Tuesday’s Council meeting, I have never witnessed our non-partisan Council chamber exploited so shamelessly for partisan political purposes by agreeing (with one clear dissent) at the behest of Mayor Hersman and Councilperson Stern to not require a permit (and $2164 permit fee, according to Parks & Rec director Leyman) for this coming Friday’s planned “Lights for Liberty” assembly on the pier.
I disagree with Council’s decision to not require this particular gathering to pay a permit fee, even given Leyman’s uncertainty in reconciling existing permit regulations with the parameters of this particular event. Obviously, what is needed is an unbiased, nonpartisan protocol for addressing these types of assemblies, not ad hoc decision-making (once a protocol is in place, the fee could be refunded if deemed not required under the new rules).
And I vehemently disagree that this was a proper issue for Councilperson Stern to be introducing and for the Mayor to be agendizing for Council’s consideration simply because they like the message. Would a group that wants to meet on the pier because it’s concerned about illegal immigrant overcrowding at border detention facilities and believes that building a border wall will inhibit illegal immigration and alleviate that overcrowding on a go-forward basis receive the same fee consideration from Mayor Hersman and Councilperson Stern? We all know the answer to that.
As Councilperson Napolitano said in open council, “We can’t waive fees for everybody for everything.” But declaring "Lights for Liberty" to not require a permit fee is an odd way of achieving that goal as there will certainly be a plethora of groups asking for similar treatment in the future, and some of them may be espousing viewpoints that Council doesn’t like.
Councilperson Hadley had it correct, that the permit fee should not have been waived because (1) a protocol for dealing with fee exceptions for assemblies such as “Lights for Liberty” was not in place and (2) as she accurately observed, “One person’s popular cause is another person’s less popular cause.”
My view – Hersman and Stern were way out of line for using their council offices to request that Manhattan Beach residents subscribe to their politics and pick up the tab to boot and, in their partisan zeal, they’ve left the door wide open to future requests for similar treatment.
Please tell me where I am wrong in the above analysis.
We eventually heard from all 5 councilmembers and their responses were pretty much what you'd expect.
Suzanne Hadley said my letter was accurate while Napolitan and Montgomery preferred to defend their decision by falling back on the rationale that a permit was not required as the city's 'special events' permitting process didn't seem to clearly apply.
Meanwhile, Mayor Hersman admitted, and eventually apologized, for agendizing this issue while Councilmember Stern remained unmoved by concerns over her partisanship and continued to aver, against all evidence to the contrary, that "Lights for Liberty" was a non-partisan event.
More to come. Stay tuned.