The Sacramento City Council late Tuesday dropped proposals to restrict picketing outside private homes and curtail the use of bullhorns in residential areas.
The proposed changes were part of a larger package to limit panhandling and activist activities that comes as homelessness is on the rise and downtown business owners have asked for more action from the city to deter panhandling, outdoor camping and criminal activity. The City Council on Tuesday dropped the residential picketing and bullhorn restrictions but sent the rest of the ordinance back to the Law and Legislation Committee for further review.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said the package came from Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents the central city and Land Park. Steinberg said Tuesday afternoon he didn’t back the constraints on protesters.
“The whole issue of residential picketing and noise, it invokes significant constitutional issues and even though I think there can be and should be a much higher level of civility and decorum in many of our political actions, the government should not be weighing in on where and how people can express their points of view,” Steinberg said.
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“I’ve talked to Councilmember Hansen (and) I commend him for putting forward an entire package,” Steinberg said. “We had an honest conversation about which parts of this I think are strong and which shouldn’t go forward.”
Hansen said Tuesday it was not his ordinance and that it originated from the city and the Sacramento Police Department. He said he gets regular complaints from employers, residents and city staff trying to maintain city parks about aggressive behavior.
Hansen’s home was picketed this year by Black Lives Matter Sacramento during a push for police reforms, and a staff report noted that public officials were among the targets of residential protests.
At the meeting, Hansen was called out by several activists, including former Arcata mayor Shane Brinton, a member of the Sacramento Democratic Socialists of America. Brinton called Hansen a “union buster” and yelled until he was removed from the chamber.
Steinberg said he also had reservations about changes that would close City Hall plaza to gatherings after 7 p.m. on nights without a city meeting. Other parts of the proposal would prohibit panhandling near ATMs, gas stations, roadway medians and transit stops; make it illegal for panhandlers to solicit from people riding in cars near intersections and shopping centers; and give police the ability to cite people being “disruptive and uncooperative” in a public park or recreational facility if they refuse to leave.
It would also require that alcoves larger than 3 feet deep in empty buildings be boarded up or enclosed with fencing.
“I understand and support the need for the quality of life portions of the item,” Vice Mayor Rick Jennings said in a statement before the meeting. “We need to support and protect our residents, businesses and visitors from unlawful and aggressive behavior. What I do not support is infringing on the public’s right to peaceably assemble and petition their government for redress.”
Councilman Jay Schenirer, who heads the Law and Legislation Committee, asked members of the public and council members to submit comments on the remainder of the package to the city manager’s office by end of Thursday.
The Sacramento chapter of Black Lives Matter and dozens of union and political groups held two news conferences Tuesday objecting to a plan they said would undermine civil liberties. Many also attended Tuesday night’s meeting to speak against the measure, and some were ejected from the chamber.
Cres Vellucci, a legal observer with the National Lawyers Guild, said his group particularly opposed restrictions that could have prohibited picketing on sidewalks, a traditional place for protests.
“This many groups don’t usually sign on to a letter in this short a period of time,” Vellucci said. “I was impressed. We had everyone from labor to veteran’s groups.”