Thanks to all who have joined the struggle to overturn Humboldt County Ordinance 2477 – the Urgency Ordinance. The letters and opinion pieces in the Times-Standard; the on-line petition; our active presence at Board of Supervisor meetings; on-going nightly candlelight vigils; and the united support of community groups have contributed to two important recent developments: the June 19 decision by the Supervisors to modify the curfew provision of the urgency ordinance and the acquittal of three Occupy Eureka activists in Humboldt Superior Court on July 11 on charges of violating that curfew provision.
At the June 19 Humboldt County Supervisorial Meeting, the supervisors voted 3-2 on a motion to direct county staff to look into modifying the ordinance to, in part, “lift the current ban for the 24 hour use curfew and to change the ban on permitting the use of displays. Displays would not be allowed from the hours of 9:30pm to 6:00am.” Joining Supervisors Lovelace and Bass in support of the motion, Supervisor Sundberg expressed the sentiment that he would rather err on the side of supporting Free Speech.
In another part of this motion the CAO Phillip Smith-Hanes was tasked to “direct the City of Eureka to appoint two members to participate in the further discussion of the permanent ordinance.” A related task directed the CAO “to continue work on the Long term Ordinance for the use of County Properties.”
The new ordinance is not on the July 17 Board of Supervisors agenda. No exact date has been given for when the language modifying the ordinance will be presented to the Board for their approval and first reading. We will let you know the date when we have that information.
On July 13, in Courtroom 2 on the second floor of the Courthouse, after six days of trial and jury deliberations, three activists were declared to be “Not Guilty!” of charges that they violated the curfew provision of the ordinance. Kimberly Star, Amanda Tierney and Peter Camacho were arrested for holding a candlelight vigil on the Courthouse steps on March 30 three days after the ordinance became law.
Arguments during the trial centered on the question—does the county legislature have the authority to trump 1st Amendment Constitutional rights? County Superior Court Judge Marilyn Miles instructed the jurors to consider the trio's mental state during the incident.Public Defender Casey Russo, representing Peter Camacho, stated it this way: “If the activists believed their actions were protected (by the First Amendment), and if that belief was found reasonable by the jury, then they didn't have the required mental state to have committed this ‘crime’.”
Kimberly Starr said in her closing arguments, “We hold strongly to the firmly planted belief that no government body can trump the Constitution. The Board of Supervisors tread where no government in the U.S. should go. This courthouse is a visible, central, and most reasonable and traditional place for protest activity in Humboldt.”In her closing argument, Amanda Tierney told the jury: “Today, I ask that you say yes to the elixir that should always fuel our democracy…the freedom to express our opinions and engage each other in a social dialogue.”
After the verdicts were read and Judge Miles had dismissed the jurors, some of the jurors, a news reporter, and several supporters met informally for the first time in the hallway outside the chamber. One juror commented, "We believed they had the right to be there and we believed they thought they could be there.”
Where do we go from here? We need to continue to remind the Board of Supervisors that many individuals and groups want them to rescind the urgency ordinance. This sentiment was expressed to the supervisors by the County Human Rights Commission. In their letter of June 11 to the Board, the Commission not only conveyed their unanimous recommendation to repeal the ordinance, but also urged the Supervisors to begin "working together on developing appropriate ways to deal with issues of free speech; public health and safety; and rights to assemble, speak, and demonstrate on public property.”
The ordinance, as written, is overly broad and contains elements that would most likely be found unconstitutional. Any efforts to modify the ordinance to make it acceptable to the courts could simply lead to more mistrust and increased legal costs. It would be better to repeal it and leave it behind. As things stand, even the language in the motion to modify the ordinance is problematic: the motion uses the word ‘displays,’ but that word is nowhere to be found in Ordinance 2477.
The supervisors are still engaged in flawed process hastily introduced by Supervisor Jimmy Smith when he called for the Emergency Hearing resulting in the adoption of the urgency ordinance. An acknowledgement that the flaws of the process and ordinance were the result of a hasty response carried out in the heat of the moment would set the stage for an open, positive process where the community and the Board could work together to find solutions to the problems raised to the fore by Occupy Eureka’s presence at the Courthouse.
At this time we are asking you to do the following:
1. Write letters and emails to the Board and the media, asking the Board to proceed as recommended by the County Human Rights Commission:
4. Come to the Board of Supervisor’s meeting – we’ll alert you to the date of the meeting where the modification to the Urgency Ordinance will be presented and read.