Proposed Sacramento ordinance would restrict actions outside City Hall

Strumming a ukulele on the front lawn of Sacramento’s historic City Hall on a sunny afternoon last week, Michael Hanson broke one proposed law after another. He was making noise with something other than his voice. He had signs, a table and a chair. He was harming what’s left of the front lawn by, well, standing on it. At least he didn’t have a fog machine. “We’ve never had a fog machine,” he said. “At least not that I know of.” That’s a relief, given that the city is exploring placing strict rules on how the land surrounding the historic and nearby newer City Hall is used – including prohibiting fog machines. While city officials insist Hanson and his fellow Occupy Sacramento protesters were not the inspiration for the new guidelines, many of the proposed violations under debate are committed by Occupy members every day. Under an ordinance to be considered by the City Council’s Law and Legislation Committee later this month, violators would be subject to fines of $250 to $25,000 for breaking laws set forth in the proposed “Use of the City Hall Facility” ordinance. Those who defy the rules would be guilty of misdemeanors. City officials said the new guidelines are essential to ensure a safe environment around historic City Hall and the adjacent new City Hall to protect the grounds. In recent months, city maintenance crews have responded more frequently to reports of people urinating on historic City Hall, bathing and washing dishes in the decorative fountains, and smoking marijuana. Councilman Darrell Fong, who patrolled many protests during his 30 years as a city police officer, said the intent of the ordinance is not to limit free speech. “But it gets to a certain point of: How do we balance the freedom of speech with safety?” he said. “I don’t see this as being a very complex issue.” Despite private grumblings from high-ranking city officials about the appearance of the grounds, the proposed rules could face opposition on the City Council. Councilman Jay Schenirer, who chairs the Law and Legislation Committee, said he has reservations about the proposal.

Schenirer delayed a debate on the ordinance when it was originally floated in June. “I just think, generally, we’re a public organization and we have a responsibility to listen to the public, and the public should have access to us,” he said. “I want to make sure we’re not overrestricting access.” The proposed rules range from common-sense behavior – littering would be prohibited – to actions that seem rather specific. Helium balloons and confetti would not be allowed on City Hall grounds. Neither would fireworks, or drawing on the sidewalk with chalk. Banging on cowbells during the day, leaving items unattended and cooking on the property would be outlawed. Oh, and guns. Those would be prohibited, too. Reina Schwartz, head of the city’s Department of General Services, said city staffers began discussing the new rules last year – months before Occupy protesters began showing up across the street at Cesar Chavez Plaza. That protest eventually made its way to the front lawn of the historic City Hall building. In the months that have followed, Occupy protesters lying on the lawn have killed a large section of grass along I Street. They’ve also broken sprinkler heads on the lawn, Schwartz said. “People can meet to discuss things,” she said. “That’s their right. These are just basic rules for how people should conduct themselves.” The possibility of stricter guidelines doesn’t seem to scare those still taking part in the Occupy protest. While their numbers have dwindled in recent months, the group still organizes regular protests, including demonstrations against foreclosures and what it says is a lack of police oversight. Anthony Thomas Holden, lying in the shade a few feet from historic City Hall, which also is known as old City Hall, said he’s already received several tickets for having a sleeping bag and sleeping on the grounds. “I’ll tell them to add (new tickets) to the collection,” he said. Holden was not apologetic for his group’s destruction of the lawn. “The lives lost in Iraq are worth more than this grass,” he said. “And those lives were lost for our very right to do this.”

via : The Modesto Bee

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