Well, isn't that special.
̴ Dana Carvey (SNL's Church Lady)
Remember back in July when all hell broke loose after two of Manhattan Beach’s five council members – Mayor Nancy Hersman and then newly-elected councilperson Hildy Stern – decided to use their influence on City Council to bestow special treatment on the organizers of a purely partisan political gathering on the Pier called the “Lights for Liberty” (pictured above)?
Essentially, by putting the issue of a city permit fee for this political event on Council’s agenda (that's our supposedly nonpartisan Council, mind you), they were able to get 4 of 5 council members to agree that the City’s $2,164 special events fee would not have to be paid by the event organizers, one of whom was Ms Stern (hmmm).
So, let’s see, council person Stern and like-minded fellow liberal Mayor Hersman are able to agendize a permit fee issue for a liberal political event organized, in part, by activist Stern and supported, ideologically, by Mayor Hersman in order to ensure that, except for a small sound amplification fee, Council would either waive the special events fee or, in this case, deem it inapplicable.
As Dana Carvey’s SNL character, the Church Lady, used to say, “How conveeeeeeenient.”
As you may recall, Lights for Liberty was intended to draw attention to the conditions at the immigrant detention centers along the southern border, although some of the event speakers went way beyond that into other immigration issues while the sponsors of the event looked like a who's who of the left with positions including "abolish ICE" and "open borders."
What if the event was to express support for the construction of a border wall? Would that type of event have made it onto the Council agenda for special consideration? Do you even have to ask?
To be fair (because we’re all about fairness here), Parks & Rec Department director Mark Leyman did speak during the Council session to point out that the permit regs were unclear in their potential applicability to a political gathering involving protected free speech, as this event most certainly was.
To clear this up, City Council, at its September 17 meeting, voted to move forward with a new regulation called (wait for it)…the Expressive Activities Policy.
We like the name. Sounds like something out of a modern interpretive dance class.
The new Departmental policy will allow any 'expressive activity" - essentially any gathering involving speech or distribution of literature protected by the 1st Amendment (but not commercial speech) - on most public properties, including the Pier (with some exceptions like the Greenbelt, Sand Dune park and those small neighborhood parquettes you see dotted throughout Manhattan Beach) without the necessity of a City permit, although a relatively small sound amplification permit fee may be required if such equipment will be used.
We would have preferred that the City charge a reasonable permit fee for all gatherings (such fees are constitutionally permitted if reasonable and content-neutral), particularly since, as the City attorney noted, the courts have been less accommodating when a city tries to recover the cost of extra city services, like additional police (even the "Lights for Liberty" event involved at least one police cruiser and some street barricades at the end of Manhattan Beach Blvd, as I recall).
In fact, the Supreme Court has said you cannot impose fees on speakers based on the expected cost of security. So Manhattan Beach (like every other municipality) ends up not only subsidizing the cost of peaceful gatherings like Lights for Liberty, but also more controversial inflammatory figures or groups. In a worst-case scenario, we can see the need for a larger police presence (and more city funds expended as a result) if the group calling the meeting fits that latter category.
Hopefully, it never comes to that. There's a certain built-in trust that our reasonably tolerant community will acquit itself properly, even if not everyone agrees with the views being espoused.
Indeed, that's exactly what transpired at the Lights for Liberty event which went off without a hitch even as a business acquaintance showed up wearing a red MAGA hat. We kidded her and asked her where was her security but I don't believe anyone else even batted an eye (if she tried that in Portland, Antifa would be all over her like logos on a Nascar).
Putting the fee issue aside, the new policy is a welcome clarification and ensures that a diversity of views will be treated equally in the public square. What could be more Constitutional and, at the same time, less 'special' than that?
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