Sun. Apr 14th, 2024

The Santa Ana City Council has failed to stop ridiculous protests that have been taking place at all hours at Congressman Lou Correa’s home in Floral Park, after a 3-3 vote that Council Member Thai Viet Phan left early.

The City of Santa Ana Code was amended in the late 1980s to include a prohibition against targeted picketing in front of a home. Section 10-110 of the City Code (as it sits today) states: “It is unlawful for any person to engage in picketing before of [sic] about the residence or dwelling of any individual, where such picketing is focused on that particular residence or dwelling. In enacting this section, the city council finds and determines as follows: “The protection of the well-being, tranquility and privacy of the home is a significant government interest. Picketers who focus upon a particular residence or dwelling generally do not seek to disseminate a message to the general public but to intrude upon the targeted resident and do so in an especially offensive way. Such picketers inherently and offensively intrude on residential privacy. The purpose of this section is to protect and preserve the home through assurance that members of the community enjoy in their homes and dwellings a feeling of well-being, tranquility and privacy.”

This ordinance, for whatever reason, is not being enforced by the SAPD. As such the Santa Ana City Attorney took it upon herself to draft an ordinance that would clarify Section 10-110 of the City’s Code. Her proposed ordinance would have created a distance radius and improved definitions in an effort to assist both the public and the police in planning for protests and conducting a police response.

The protests at Correa’s house have largely been conducted by people who don’t live in Santa Ana. These protesters are upset about the war in Gaza, an issue that has no bearing on Santa Ana. These protesters believe that any attempt to stop them from protesting at Correa’s house is an attack on their right to free speech. However the City Attorney is only trying to clarify an existing provision in the City’s Code that already prohibits targeted protests in neighborhoods.

The protesters admitted at a recent Santa Ana City Council meeting that their intent is to be noisy and to annoy Congressman Correa. Protestors also said that their efforts to engage with the Congressman have failed as he does not return their calls and has routinely shut down his local office on Broadway. The protestors actually conceded that Congressman Correa is rarely at home. The result of their loud protests have been super annoying to Congressman Correa’s family and neighbors but have had no effect on Correa himself.

The protesters said that they would stop protesting at Corea’s home if he gives in to their demand, which are that he should demand an immediate ceasefire to the war in Gaza,

These protesters believe that disruptiing Correa’s neighborhood is a small price to pay compared to the horrible suffering in Gaza.

The maority of the speakers at the City Council meeting did not give their address and it quickly became evident that most of them don’t live in the City.

Quite a few of the protestors added that Congressman Correa takes money from Jewish groups and must therefore be bought and paid for.

Floral Park Neighborhood Association President Jeffrey Katz told the City Council that it is fair to say that Floral Park—at least for these protests—is presently the most impacted neighborhood. Katz advocated for the ordinance as being a balanced approach. Namely, the protestors could readily get their message across from Broadway. Katz further reminded the Council that Councilman Johnathan Ryan Hernandez had heavily criticized supporters of the police department that protested in front of his home and annoyed his neighbors and their children. Katz further criticized Councilwoman Jessie Lopez for ignoring the desires of her constituents in Ward 3 to return to City business as opposed to wading into foreign issues and respectfully requested that the City Council be responsive to citizen demands.

A number of Floral Park residents also spoke at the hearing. As would be expected, the residents played audio of the noise which could be heard well within their homes. Residents also took issue with the nature of the protestors and that—while sympathetic to the protestors objectives—were suffering a significant nuisance. A number of residents complained about elderly or sick neighbors coupled with frightened children who could not sleep. The protests have started at 6 a.m. and have gone well into evening hours.

During Council deliberations, there was considerable confusion as to how the ordinance came about. The City Attorney clarified that the ordinance was drafted on her motion in an effort to better insulate the City from suit and to clarify the contours of the existing Code. The City Attorney further advised the City Council that her office had made the Council aware of the ordinance previously and no member of Council had asked her to withdraw the ordinance.

Individual Council Members offered their take on the ordinance. In a surprising twist of events, it appears that the City Attorney wanted to brief the City Council in executive session or individually (outside the public view) regarding the need for the ordinance. However, her request to do so was refused. City Attorney likely was trying to caution the City Council regarding the problematic nature of the present form of the City Code, difficulties being experienced by the police department in enforcing it, and potential liability that the City may endure if a protest were to become violent. In lieu of accepting this briefing, the Council apparently sidelined the City Attorney.

Councilman Ben Vazquez gave a brief speech recognizing the right to protests and the devastation in Gaza and that he would not support the ordinance.

Councilman Hernandez then gave a fairly long and disjointed speech about a family member who had been killed by police and that the Santa Ana Police Department have targeted him for speaking out. Councilman Hernandez reminded the crowd that the protestors are fighting for their families and that he would not silence free speech.” At the end of the hearing, Councilman Hernandez added again that he has suffered great trauma in his life, does not support targeted picketing, but would not support any form of infringement on First Amendment rights.

Councilwoman Lopez similarly gave a self-serving speech wherein she referenced her troubles when she was subject to heightened scrutiny during the recent failed attempt to recall her and the annoyance that it caused her and those around her. Councilwoman Lopez suggested that the City Attorney’s office revise the ordinance to address noise at protests. The City Attorney responded that noise ordinances are a function of noise measurements which are not entirely possible during protests. The City Attorney’s office responded to a number of the points made by Councilwoman Lopez and highlighted the efforts made in the ordinance to clarify the Code. The City Attorney reminded Councilwoman Lopez that the ordinance would not prohibit picketing or general marching. The proposed ordinance would merely prevent picketing that focused on a house or an individual and that this is a lawful time, place, and manner restriction.

Councilwoman Lopez stated, “just because it is lawful does not mean it is right!” The City Attorney advised that this is fundamentally a policy decision when she articulated the policy question being put to Councilwoman Lopez and the rest of Council. The policy question for the Council fundamentally according to the City Attorney: “Is it ok to have a level of disruption and disruption of tranquility in a neighborhood when it is aimed at a single home or person.” And Councilwoman Lopez retorted, “it is not ok, and no one agrees with the targeting but I am struggling that this intentional… Whose rights do I choose to prioritize when I have members of my district saying support it and those who are saying do not.” Ultimately, Councilwoman Lopez chose not to support the proposed ordinance.

Councilman Phil Bacerra asked a series of questions wherein he obtained clarifications that a similar ordinance was upheld by the United States 9th Circuit Court of Appeal. Councilman Bacerra also illustrated the hypocrisy of other candidates and the incredible waste of resources spent on these issues. Tellingly, Councilman Bacerra remarked that the Council could have sent letters individually demanding a ceasefire but instead, “they stoked hate with multiple one-sided resolutions that led our police to have to clear council chambers.” Councilman Bacerra further blamed the four Councilmembers who pushed through a ceasefire resolution which then caused the fight to spill out into City neighborhoods. Finally, Councilman Bacerra affirmed that Congressman Correa’s district office is across the street and outside of a residential neighborhood. He stated, the protestors chose his home, “…where they could target his wife and children and intimidate them.” Councilman Bacerra was interrupted a number of time during his speech by the out of town protesters.

Councilman David Penaloza gave a brief speech wherein he recognized the need for First Amendment protections but fundamentally believed that the neighbors should be prioritized. Interestingly, Councilman Penaloza highlighted that elected officials sign up for being protested but their families and their neighbors do not. Therefore, Councilman Penaloza supported the ordinance.

Mayor Valerie Amezcua similarly expressed her support for the ordinance but recognized that the vote would likely be three-three. The Mayor and Councilman Bacerra have shown considerable courage and patience on this issue. Both have shown great intestinal fortitude and I remain the president of their respective fan clubs. As did Councilman Bacerra, Mayor Amezcua stated emphatically that she has a responsibility to the constituents that she serves and that her priority is her constituents.

As noted earlier in this post, Councilwoman Tai Viet Phan, who had been participating in the City Council meeting online, left the meeting and neither offered her position or a vote.

As would be expected, the vote deadlocked meaning it did not pass. Mayor Amezcua, Councilman Bacerra, and Councilman Penaloza supported the ordinance. Councilwoman Lopez, Councilman Vazquez, and Councilman Hernandez voted against it.

So: where do things presently sit?

Again, the City Code in its present form prohibits the targeting of homes or residences. The question is therefore whether or not the City will allow the police to enforce the ordinance in its current form. It is also possible that the City Council could bring the ordinance back. This could happen if Councilwoman Phan indicates that she would support the ordinance. Ward three residents should demand that Councilwoman Lopez bring the ordinance back for a full vote or, in the alternative, that the City enforce the Code as it is presently written. Contact her here.

This post relied heavily on a post by Mark Rothenberg at the Neighbors of Santa Ana Facebook page.

By Editor

The New Santa Ana blog has been covering news, events and politics in Santa Ana since 2009.

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